The past four years have bonded seniors Joshua Mirth, Matt Perkins, Kevin Frost, John Wierenga, Jack Butler and Luke Hickman.
The six seniors make up the only fully intact class to have existed in the past four years: No one quit the team, no one else in their year joined it. This is also the last class that the previous head coach Bill Lundberg recruited.
One of the first things this group of men bonded over was Lundberg’s retirement. Many upperclassmen quit the team or graduated after Lundberg’s last season.
“After our first season, we lost about half the team,” Mirth said.
“The next season, we were thrust into leadership roles,” Butler said. “We were just sophomores. I think we changed the culture of the team. Us six, we’ve defined the team since our sophomore year. We had to.”
Since then, the team has achieved great success. This year the team climbed to an impressive thirteenth place ranking in NCAA Division-II.
“When I joined our ranking was no where close to where it is now,” Butler said.
Looking back at their freshman year, a lot of things have changed — and probably for the better, thinks Frost.
“I remember thinking John was a toolbag,” said Frost, now one of Wierenga’s closest friends. “He was wearing a hoodie, hat backwards, white belt and white shoes.”
“I remember when we all first met,” Butler said. “Mirth and Hickman said nothing. I hear Kevin speak and I thought, well, he must be a southerner.”
Despite their first impressions, living together in the Niedfeldt dorm and long hours practicing together ignited their friendship. After freshman year, half the guys moved to the “three-way,” an off-campus house that has been home to cross-country runners for several years. The following year two others joined the house.
During afternoons, however, it is rare to find any of these guys chilling there. It’s practice time.
“There’s that whole block of time, 3 – 7 p.m., that I never see during the week,” Butler said. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else during that time though.”
“Cross-country keeps us more productive,” Hickman said. “Our average GPA between us six runners is 3.4.”
These athletes have to be disciplined to keep up with their sport’s schedule and Hillsdale’s grueling academics. A typical weekday consists of morning run and lift, class, practice, homework, and a bedtime around 10:30 p.m.
The guys’ weekends consist of running anywhere from 12 to 18 miles, making big breakfasts, studying, watching some football, and hanging out, Wierenga said.
As dedicated as they are, they have all had their doubts about their running careers at times over the past four years. But through injuries, frequent changes in coaches, and overall weariness, they have prevailed.
“It’s safe to say that we have all had our downfalls in the last four years. Lots of challenges, and we have all thought about the question of why we spend so much time doing what we do,” Wierenga said.
“I think about quitting every time it snows,” said Frost, a native Texan.
“There is something special about the fact that none of us have quit,” Mirth added.
The six seniors continue to be the leaders on the team. Four of the six are consistently in the team’s top seven runners. These guys, however, not only set an example when it comes to running, but by how they live.
“I think our relationship with the younger runners is very important,” Frost said. “We give them advice on not just class and running, but on how to better live life.”
“We make sure to tell them about the dumb things we did and hope that they learn from them,” Perkins added.
Over the past four years, all six have learned to truly enjoy running and being on a team. The average mileage per person over four years totals around 8,500.
“Once I graduate, I’ll realize how much we are going to miss each other,” Frost said.
They all plan on recreationally running after college.
“We are not sick of it yet,” Perkins said. “I’ve never been sick of running, just some days.”
Mirth wants to make at least one run at the Olympic trials marathon. Next year is a qualifying year.