The Penn Boys Cross Country team will go test its team strength as they head into the final regular season meet of the year at Huntington University on September 24th.
Heading into the final regular season meet, the Kingsmen rank 18th in the IATCCC State Poll. After finishing 4th at the New Prairie Invitational, the biggest high school event in the state of Indiana, the Kingsmen runners look to bounce back and set their eyes on the tournament ahead.
The New Haven Cross Country Classic at Huntington University is where the Kingsmen will race at Semi-State this year. This meet is scheduled by the coaches to help runners prepare for one of the most important races of the year next month.
Assistant Coach Jeremy Starkweather offers elaboration as to why they race at the New Haven Classic
“This is mostly not for the coaching staff, it is for our athletes to see what the course is like and feel the course. This is one of the tougher courses on our schedule and it will help the boys’ strategies for the meet in a month from now,” Starkweather said. “However, we do use the result from this meeting to help plan ahead for next month. We are going to look a the splits of each kilometer. We are going to really keep a close eye on the 6th runner as we need them to be as close to as 5th spot as possible in the event of a tiebreaker, an especially important strategy when we race against some of the top teams in the state.”
While the Kingsmen are looking toward the Semi-State race, they are not overlooking their Sectional and Regional races.
“Looking toward the state tournament, for the next month the team will be training business as usual. We like to keep a consistent training schedule for our runners. Leading up to the state tournament, we are going to prioritize faster mileage, rather than distance. We want our runner’s legs to feel fresh at the Semi-State Race,” Starkweather said.
Each year, teams bring a different experience for the coaching staff. Coach Starkweather reflects on the 2022 Kingsmen thus far.
“For the last four years, we’ve had two very front-strong runners, Carter Kaser and Mariano Retzloff. Without them, we’ve had to rely on pack running. This year, we have had our pack really step up, as a result, making our team very competitive this postseason and helping us reach that final race of the season in Terre Haute,” Starkweather said.
Jack Ryan, a sophomore, is part of that crucial pack of runners Coach Starkweather praised. Ryan, returning varsity runner, is gearing up for the postseason as looks for big improvement compared to last year to this year.
“It’s gone way better. My times have improved significantly from last year and I’m moved up the lineup. Generally, I feel a lot better leading up to the races compared to last year. I’m not only excited to see how I perform during the tournament, but the team as a whole,” Ryan said.
With October nearing, the team’s focus shifts to each race of the tournament season.
“We are going to increase the intensity of workouts and the environment will be more focused. There will be no more messing around, we are here for one thing and one thing only. Once October 1st hits, we will be locked in from that moment until hopefully October 29th, after we potentially race in the IHSAA State Meet,” Ryan said.
While Ryan is still getting used to the high school cross country scene, senior Nate Pratt has four years of experience under his belt. As this is Pratt’s final season running for the Kingsmen, he had some time to reflect on the past four years of cross country.
“Significantly better. Freshmen year, I had never run before, Sophomore year was Covid-19, and in Junior year I broke my foot. This feels like the first complete season to me. As far as it goes with the team, I believe this year’s team has the best balance of having fun, while being focused when we need to get the job done,” Pratt said.
Pratt, who broke his foot at the New Prairie Invitational last year, now gets to finally race at New Haven before the tournament starts. He says running the course now is a huge advantage.
“Knowing the course is half the battle. It is crucial to know when to push in the race and when to hold back. Knowing the details of the course will help me find a rhythm when the big race comes,” Pratt said.
With the postseason on the horizon, Pratt is confident that the team will make some noise during the tournament but acknowledges that the tournament season will be a grind.
“Everyone goes and gets work done. There is no messing around. Everyone is focused, there is less play and only work. We lose one meet and we’re done, everyone understands that and helps pushes the intensity of the environment,” Pratt said.
The New Haven Invite marks the end of the regular season for the Penn Kingsmen. Once the gun fires at the NIC Championship on October 1st, the Kingsmen will begin its IHSAA Tournament Journey. Once ranked outside the Top 25 in the preseason poll, Coach Miller and the Kingsmen runners now look to prove all of the doubters wrong and show the state of Indiana their true talent.