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The Promising Future of Penn Boys Cross Country

The Penn Boys Cross Country team is looking ahead to a bright and promising 2023 season

This past season, the Kingsmen began as an unranked team in the state. Two months later at the IHSAA State Finals, the Kingsmen finished in 14th place. 

While many people were left stunned at the rise of the Kingsmen, runners a part of the cross country team believed their team had promise going into the season. 

When asked why many people had Penn ranked so low at the beginning of the season, Varsity Runner Mikel Cox (Jr.) had a detailed explanation as to why so many people initially wrote off the Kingsmen.

“Well first off I think that the loss of Mariano and Carter, our two best runners last year, impacted it significantly as they were our big scorers. Nick had also improved a lot and took 1st for the team a few times this season. A big reason we did well this year is from stepping up and overall being closer together. Hudson stepped up a lot to be our 1 or 2 with Jack Ryan when healthy being very quick as was Matt Givens who wasn’t even ranked last year and became our number 4 for a while is another reason we shot up the order. Brandon Mueller also made a huge leap from being sick for a month in the summer to our 5th runner. Will Mickelson raced better this year and when I was healthy I wasn’t too far away from the 6th runner,” Cox said.

Varsity teammate Will Mickelson (Jr.) had similar thoughts on the initial ranking of the Kingsmen. 

“I think that the people that were ranking us thought that because we lost Mariano and Carter, our two best runners from last year, we were going to be bad. However, we showed them that we were a team that they shouldn’t mess with by having 5 guys go sub 17 and winning the Wildcat classic. I think that the Wildcat was where teams finally saw that we weren’t just 2 front runners and we were deep as well,” Mickelson said. 

Brandon Mueller (Jr.), another varsity runner on the team, contributed their huge success to senior Nick Probst and the sophomore class. 

“Guys like Matthew Givens and Jack Ryan helped step up and made us closer to our top two runners, Nick Probst and Hudson Kaser. Pack running is Penn’s specialty and we really put an emphasis on that,” Mueller said.

While the 2023 cross-country season is still a ways off, the Kingsmen are now looking toward the offseason and track season to help develop their running skills. 

“Running year-round is very important to maximize your performance. Whether you like cross country or track more, you just have to use that mindset to use that season as training for your preference,” Mueller said.

“The track season if you want to succeed in cross is a must. Running in itself is all about consistency so being at practice every day, going your mileage, going your pace, etc. that’s important and that’s what makes a fast runner stay fast and a slower one gets faster. Track also gives racing experience and while they are shorter races they still help out a lot. Track also lets those that might be better at shorter distances like the 800m and the mile show their speed,” Cox said.

“Track season is very important for cross country because it keeps us running and getting better throughout the year and without it, we wouldn’t be nearly as good as we are,” Mickelson said.

The runners explained that they valued track season so highly due to the aid it has given them in their development as runners overall. 

These runners did not come to Penn and automatically get a starting varsity spot, rather they have used these past two and a half years to develop and maximize their running ability. 

“I came into Penn and ran my first race at the Elm road course, which is also our only home meet of the year, and didn’t even run sub 20 minutes but now I’m up with the varsity guys running sub-17-minute 5ks and I think I was able to develop so well because we have some of the best coaches and they were able to push me as well as me being hard on myself to get better,” Mickelson said.

“When I started back in middle school I made the varsity team. When I entered high school, I had the goal of being on the varsity team. After I made the varsity team, I fell in love with the training plan. Unfortunately, I got injured and that derailed my motivation. However, people passing me up just didn’t sit well with me. I have a competitive spirit and that motivated me to be the best runner I can be. Preserving through difficult times has made me the runner I am today,” Mueller said.

“When I joined the Cross Country team in the summer of 2020 I hadn’t run that much before. I played soccer but stopped in 8th grade and I had a few 5k’s under my belt but I never trained for them. As a runner, I’ve improved a lot and so have a lot of the current juniors. In the first race that season no one had broken 20 minutes and now those same runners are sub 17:30. In My first race, I ran around 24 minutes. That freshman year I ended with a PR of 20:32. I continued running into the track season and got a mile PR of 5:53. and was 2nd to last on the team. Into the sophomore year I kept running and kept getting better until I got a stress fracture at the end of this season with a PR of 17:12,” Cox said.

As the next cross-country season will be each of these runners’ senior season, they want to go out with a bang. To do so, they acknowledge the biggest strength the Kingsmen have going into next year; the art of pack running. 

“It’s going to be the same thing as this year. We are going to excel at pack running. Our team will have even more depth than last year, allowing us to be more competitive with one another. I think with how competitive we are with one another, our pack running, we are looking to place inside the top ten at state next year,” Mueller said.

“Heading into next year I think our team’s biggest strength is that we are only losing 1 person in the top 7 and we are getting some Freshmen that are supposed to be good. I also think that we are going to have some guys step up next year and fill the holes in the lineup so we can continue to run our best and hopefully podium at the state meet next year. Especially since most of the really good teams this year are losing a good majority of their top seven I think that will put us in a very good spot coming into next year,” Mickelson said.

“Next year the team’s biggest strength will be depth. This year we had 20 runners break the 19-minute barrier required for the tournament team compared to last year’s 17 runners. 4 of those were freshmen 1 of which ran 3 varsity races and 1 who broke their arm at the beginning of the season and came back after a few weeks and still went under 19. Those freshmen on the tournament team were able to continue to improve in time trials as well. Next year I’m expecting at least 15 runners under 18 minutes as our runners continue to improve through track season giving next year’s incoming freshmen a huge task,” Cox said.

The Kingsmen now look ahead to a brighter future as they strive to be on that prestigious podium in Terre Haute next fall.

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