Off and running
‘Purple Pack’ aims for gold
For the past two years, the Ephrata girls cross country team finished third in both the regular season and the season-ending Lancaster-Lebanon League run. The Lady Mounts leave no doubt as to their focus for the 2014 season, which gets underway September 2 with a quad meet at Solanco.
Senior Andrea Castillo, who finished 13th in last year’s League Meet, announced this year’s goal.
“To win the League championship,” she said, which is a sentiment echoed by fellow senior Madison Fox. “Win Leagues, go undefeated and make it to States as a team,” Fox added.
Fourth-year Coach Mike Hershberger talked about this girls group, and how their teamwork is perceived by the rest of the League.
“Our varsity girls have been known as, ‘the Purple Pack,’” Hershberger said. “Their incentive is to overtake an opponent, one at a time. It’s a five against one mentality.”
The boys have a bigger hill to climb. Last year’s regular season saw Ephrata only win five of the 21 match-ups. A positive at the end of the year was a 13th place in the League Meet.
Goals for the boys this year are more modest. Senior captain Kyle Lindberg expressed the team’s motivation. “We want to send seven team members to Districts and improve our overall record,” he said.
Junior Nate Becker talked about the team concept. “We train together (a lot),” Becker said. “Seeing a teammate in front of you makes you want to pull up and run with them.”
Coach Hershberger commented on Becker’s goal of breaking the Mounts’ course record.
“Nate is one of three or four runners who could win the League title,” Hershberger said. “Our commitment begins the day after school ends in the spring. Practices are optional at that point, and we do a lot of distance running. Two weeks before school, we start to do tempo runs and then racing.”
In addition to Castillo and Fox (60th at last year’s League Meet), the Lady Mounts return sophomore Haley Schaller (19th), junior Jordan Carvell (31st), senior Erica Voigt (51st), and senior Taylor Zvitkovitz (93rd).
Hershberger feels that three newcomers have the potential to be Elite (League top 24) runners. They are junior Taylor Mahlandt, sophomore Courtney Shrom and freshman Sydney Morgan.
The boys return sophomore Zach Lefever (54th), junior Rhett Hart (99th), junior Josiah Nimon (102) and senior Tom Schoff (124) in addition to Becker and Lindberg. Also expected to contribute are junior transfer student Dayne Wetzel from Southern Columbia, and greatly improved junior Jeremy Reiff.
Hershberger talked about becoming a consistent, successful program.
“Five years ago, we had seven boys and six girls,” he aid. “This year, there are 16 varsity boys and 19 varsity girls. You have to make the beginning (Jr. High) runners healthy first. We are starting to see results from that recruiting now.”
Both teams will get a stern test in the opener with host Solanco, which boasts the number one ranked girl’s runner, reigning girl’s champ Hempfield (boys were second last year) and Section Two contender Annville Cleona.
The first home match is September 9 with Northern Lebanon, Columbia, Penn Manor and Lancaster Mennonite.
Hershberger said that despite the fact that everyone knows the course, there is still a plus to being at home.
“The biggest advantage is having parents and students there, yelling encouragement,” he said.
There are six multi-team matches scheduled this fall, culminating with the League Meet October 14 at Ephrata, and the Districts and State meets. Jr. High races begin at 4:15, followed by the varsity boys at 4:45 and the varsity girls at 5:15. The Ephrata course is the standard 5K or 3.1 miles.
The program’s growth may have started with recruitment at the Jr. High level, but success and contribution are continuing beyond high school. Mickey Molchany is a recent graduate and former captain of the Robert Morris College cross country team. He is also helping with coaching duties at Ephrata.
The current team leaders were asked what the casual fan doesn’t know about team cross country. Castillo offered, “It’s more mental than you think. When you think you can’t go on, you have to tell yourself to finish.”
Becker added, “Running can be enjoyable. You really build a bond with your teammates.” And, Lindberg, the team’s motivational leader, said, “There is strategy before the race. You need to know who you are racing against and their tendencies.”
Both teams took advantage of the poster board on the coach’s office tables to write inspirational messages, including, “Running is a mental sport, and we’re all insane.” “It’s my soul that keeps running; my body told me to quit a couple of miles ago.” “Happiness is pushing your limit, and watching your opponent back down.” And the coach’s favorite, “The best runner on the team is not the fastest; it’s the one who makes everyone better.”