Ephrata runners have look of contenders again

By on August 24, 2016
Ephrata’s Zach Lefever, shown here during his silver-medal performance at Districts last season, is one of the top-ranked runners in the State.

Ephrata’s Zach Lefever, shown here during his silver-medal performance at Districts last season, is one of the top-ranked runners in the State.

When the boys and girls of the Ephrata cross country teams hear the starter’s pistol for their first meet at Penn Manor on September 6, the rest of the league will be watching.

For the boys, much of the attention will be on senior Zach Lefever, who finished second in both the Lancaster-Lebanon League Meet and the District Three run. In both races, he was beaten by McCaskey junior Nathan Henderson, setting up duels again this year.

Lefever missed last year’s State Meet, undergoing surgery for appendicitis on the morning of the race.

On the girl’s side, the team is poised for a run for the L-L championship, coming off a fourth-place finish in both the regular season and the League Meet.

Sixth-year head coach Mike Hershberger noted some losses from both 17-4 teams, coming into the 2016 season.

“We lost Nate Becker (4th, L-L and 8th, D3), Rhett Hart (10, 17) and Dane Wetzel on the boys side, plus Jordan Carvell and Taylor Mahlandt for the girls.”

Key returning runners include juniors Sydney Morgan and Nadine Eichenlaub plus senior Haley Schaller on the girl’s team and Seth Bollinger and Lefever for the boys.

We caught up with Coach Hershberger and his runners on Monday evening at the Ephrata Middle School between a run and team picture night.

Boys

“I think the boy’s will win three quarters of the meets if they stay healthy,” said Hershberger. “We are happy with the numbers. When I was a volunteer seven years ago, we had six girls, seven boys and 11 in the junior high. Now we have 85 kids signed up.”

“We have Zach right now, and he’s our top guy,” noted Bollinger. “One of our goals is to bridge the gap between Zach and the next group of guys. Another goal is to get all of the new guys to realize their potential. It will be cool to see how they progress through the season.”

“Last week, we had a speaker (Jeff Swarr) and Zach was asked what he was most proud of,” explained Hershberger. “He said it was the way he gets along with other people. He didn’t say a word about running. I think that’s what makes Zach different from other runners. For Zach, it’s like racing someone across the back yard to see who wins.”

Lefever was on his way home from an official visit to George Mason University (other visits will be to Pitt, Connecticut and Penn State) when he was reached by phone on Monday.

“We’re starting to jell as a team,” he said. “This summer, a lot of guys put in a lot of miles. I can see they are really focused and really want to get better. Since last year, I really worked on my speed. I have a much better kick now.”

Though it will be tough to match last year’s record, the boys still have optimistic goals, both individually and for the team.

“We want to get the whole team (top 8) to both leagues and districts,” added Bollinger. “I’d love to be in the mid 17’s for my times. Last year I ran 18:20. I definitely want to go to Districts.”

“Last year, I was getting my appendix out the morning of the State Meet,” noted Lefever. “My personal goal is to be in the top five in the State Meet this year. I’m 100 percent completely back (healed). I want redemption from last year. That’s what is fueling me. Whatever you put into the sport, the sport is going to give back.”

A couple of newcomers come to the boy’s team from another fall sport.

“Tanyon Loose is duel sporting with soccer,” said Hershberger. “In spring track as a freshman, he ran a 4:40 mile. Only a handful of freshmen in the state do that. He’s going to be good, when he’s here.”

Another soccer player will give up the pitch, running cross country exclusively for his senior year.

“Kellen Swarr is one of our top runners,” noted Hershberger. “Having seniors come in also provides instant leadership.”

Girls

“The girls are faster this year than they’ve been in the past,” said Hershberger. “They should compete for the league title. If they have a good season, they should compete at the District level. It’s all a matter of who gets hurt and when they peak.”

One of those recently injured was junior Eichenlaub.

“I was out with tendonitis for most of the summer,” she said. “Everybody has been working really hard to improve the team as a whole. We definitely have a lot of depth. From what I’ve seen, we’re on track to have a great season.”

According to Morgan, some of the bonding occurred while not running.

“We had a team camp week,” she said. “One day, we ran at Mount Gretna. Then we got ice cream afterwards at the Jigger Shop. One day, we ran at Middle Creek then went to Hersheypark for the day. Another day, we ran at Blue Marsh on the trails there. Then we had a picnic and swam at the lake. We also had a movie night.”

Schaller also talked about the importance of work in the summer.

“We had a lot of attendance at the summer runs,” she said. “Running over the summer gives us that base that’s really necessary to have a good season. The heat was pretty rough sometimes. We did a lot of trail running in the shade.”

“Township and Hempfield will be the competition for the girls,” predicted Hershberger. “If we have a good year, that’s who we’re shooting for. I don’t know if we’re consistently doing it well, but we treat Hempfield as a peer, and they’re the top school.”

The key returning girls also have lofty expectations.

“We definitely have a lot of depth this year,” said Eichenlaub, “which could help us achieve the goal of a league championship.”

“I definitely think the girl’s team can win the overall section and get first at leagues, added Morgan. “I think we’re set up to do really well this year.”

“We’re definitely looking to be one of the top teams in the league,” echoed Schaller. “I’d like to set a PR (personal record) and go to states again. That would be a great way to finish off my high school career.”

And the last word on the upcoming season goes to Coach Hershberger.

“I think we can still get better,” he said. “The kids have done a lot of work to get where they are.”

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