STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Cross-country is one of the simplest sports from an outsider’s perspective. It is predicated simply on running along a path as fast as possible.
But it is also one of the most difficult to succeed in. Athletes can’t rely on mistakes of opponents or a lucky bounce of a ball, but solely on their own ability and training.
This counts doubly for collegiate cross-country when compared to high school. Competition is heightened, races are lengthened and mental preparation becomes paramount.
“When you come to college… the intensity increases,” freshman Josh Yeager said. “It’s not just running, it’s the psychological effect of school and everything all coming together.”
Junior Reed Fischer has the experience to look back and reflect on his three years of Drake cross-country, but still came to the same conclusions as his freshman teammate.
“I think the big thing that separates the mindset from high school to college … is just the amount of commitment and dedication,” Fischer said. “In high school it’s easy to kind of go through the motions and be a good runner, but in college you have to do every little thing you can to separate yourself from the competitors.”
Drake’s schedule is conducive to this shift. It is structured in a way to help the runners transition into increasingly competitive meets so that they can be in top form once the season is in full swing.
“The freshmen are doing a good job so far. It’s a big adjustment for the guys because they’re moving up the level of competition. They’re used to winning everything in high school and all of a sudden you’re going up against all these ranked, division one teams,” head coach Dan Hostager said. “The women, same deal.”
One of the main motivations for the runners are their teammates. The whole team helps pushes one another to do their best.
“Everyone is progressing awesomely,” Yeager said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are really close to each other, pushing each other everyday. … We’re like a family.”
Fischer has been a leader of the men’s team. He was the fastest Bulldog at every meet he has competed in and posted a new personal best on Oct. 3 at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas with a time of 23:43.61 in the 8K race.
He has also finished in the top 11 in all four meets he has run in this year, and won the Bulldog 4K Classic, a dual with Southwestern Community College.
“A big thing that myself and coach Hostager have been working on is having more intentionality in my training,” Fischer said, “not just going through the motions, (but) making sure that when I go out on a run I’m focusing on what I’m doing during that specific run to make myself better and then mental focus during the harder workouts and the racing.”
The Chile Pepper Festival wasn’t only a success for Fischer. Huston and Krista Maguire posted 5K PRs of their own on the way to a sixth place team finish for the women out of 50 schools.
Senior Taylor Scholl also ran exceptionally well, placing 55th overall in a meet that featured over 400 runners with a time of 17:48.47.
“I definitely think (our performance at the Chile Pepper Festival) is a huge confidence booster because, going into conference, it’s nice knowing that we have this improvement and that we can only grow upon it more,” Scholl said. “It helps us aspire to work for even more PRs.”
That aspiration has been well placed already, it seems. The team has consistently improved as the season has gone on, with times dropping as the levels of competition and training escalate.
“I think, definitely, training everyday together has been huge,” Scholl said. “That’s been a progression for us as just kind of coming together as a team with a common goal has been a really big change over the past month.”
Still, the seniors don’t dominate the Bulldogs’ leaderboard.
Yeager paced the men at the Viking Invitational in Des Moines on Sept. 18.
Sophomore Bailee Coferalso cracked the top 100 in Fayetteville, an improvement over her 144th place finish in Minnesota the week before amidst a field ofover 250.
Even if more than half of their meets are already completed, the Bulldogs still have a tough trail ahead of them.
Competition has only stiffened and deepened with each passing week. The Drake teams have only participated in two meets with over 50 runners and have only one more meet before the MVC Championship on Oct. 31.
Drake finished in sixth place in conference last season for the men and eighth for the women. Both teams will need to step their games up if they want to do better in 2015.
“A lot of us want to place at conference, or at least improve from last year and we definitely want to be top three,” Huston said. “We definitely have enough talent and we’ve worked hard enough to do that.”
Meeting this goal may prove to be a challenge. The women only have two returning runners who placed in the top 25 last year. Reed Fischer is the only active runner of that caliber on the male side.
Still, the team has confidence as the end of the season approaches. They believe that they have the potential to be one of the best teams in the region and in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“We’re racing very well,” Yeager said. “The exciting thing is that we’re not done yet.”