Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
The Calvary Lutheran cross country team begins the season today without its top runner from last year, John Meyer. But even without Meyer, who finished 41st in Class 1 last year, coach Keri Morris is hopeful the Lions can qualify for state for the first time as a program.
“He’s a big hole to fill,” Morris said of Meyer, “but this year’s group is closer together. I have more up there in the 3-4-5 spots. Last year, it was kind of, we had John, we had Cal (Kolzow), and you kind of knew where they were going to fall, but 3-4-5 were going to be a little further back in the pack. This year, it could be a toss-up at meets.”
Kolzow also went to state last year, finishing 134th. Meyer said she’s seen a marked improvement in the junior since last season.
“He really worked hard over the summer months, put in a lot of miles,” she said. “He’s also grown a little bit. He’s just gotten a little more muscular and taller. Last year was his first year, so it was all new to him. He really knows what it was like to get to that state meet, what a big deal that is.”
Kolzow has improved in time trials by two minutes already, Morris said, a time that would have placed him in the top 30 at state.
“He’s just come out really strong,” Morris said. “He’s always looking for, ‘What else can I do to get better?’ He’s really a driven athlete.”
Backing Kolzow as the No. 2 runner is Robert Ashbaugh, a Tipton transfer, who qualified for track and field sectionals last season in the two-mile race.
“While he’s always been a runner, he’s still kind of figuring it out,” Morris said. “We’ve talked a little bit more about strategies and things, and I don’t think it’s going to take him long to jump right in. He sometimes needs a little more encouragement, and I’ll say, ‘You know, you can be up with Cal. He’s not running a pace you shouldn’t be running at.’ They’re pretty good friends, so it helps that they kind of push each other.”
Morris thinks Ashbaugh has a shot to qualify for state as an individual alongside Kolzow.
“It was kind of eye-opening for (Ashbaugh) to get to the sectional track meet last year as a sophomore,” she said. “It’s just a whole other level of experience, so I hope that kind of helped get his mind right if nothing else, because a lot of running is mental over the physical.”
Of course, Morris hopes the Lions can qualify for track as a team. Much of that hinges on the runners in the Nos. 3-5 spots.
“I just think that we’re going to come in closer as a team” at districts, Morris said. “When you’re looking at team scores, it’s great to have somebody up there in those early spots, but really when it comes down to the team score, it’s the rest of your pack that makes a difference in where you place as a team.”
Silas Luetkemeyer and Remington Wilson ran with Kolzow and Meyer at districts last year. The Lions finished just five points behind second-place Vienna and a state berth.
“They really remember that,” Morris said. “Their goal was, ‘Gosh, if everybody had passed one more person, we’d have had those five points,’ so it’s a stronger team.”
Jefferson City transfer Drew Collett was at the district race as well, though he couldn’t compete because of transfer regulations. He will be able to run varsity races this season.
Calvary also has two girls on the cross country team, which the school has not yet had with the exception of one girl who ran a few JV meets in the program’s first year. Morris expects sophomore Madeline Wilson, who reached track sectionals in the 4×800-meter relay, to have success at the varsity level.
“I’ll be curious to see where she falls,” Morris said. “At the Class 1 level, there’s just typically not as many girls, and I hope in the near future we’ll field enough girls for a team, because there’s even less full teams. Coming up from the middle-school program, I think in the next three to four years we’ll field a full girls team, I hope.”
Calvary has added meets as its program has grown, and the Lions get a chance to compete at the Bowling Green Invitational a week before districts, which are also held at Bowling Green.
“We’re not the only one that does that,” Morris said, “but that’s a huge advantage for our kids to run that course and meet before and really get them prepped for the district meet.”
The Lions begin their season today at the Metro-East Lutheran Invitational at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, a race with more than 500 competitors.
“When they medal like the top 100, you know it’s going to be a big race,” Morris said.