Freshman Adam Wier run at the Forest Akers East Golf Course at the Spartan Invi­ta­tional in East Lansing, Michigan last Friday. (Calli Townsend | Col­legian)

After the first two races of the season, the Hillsdale Chargers moved from unranked to eighth in the Midwest Regional polls. The Chargers hope to con­tinue their ascent this Sat­urday at the Greater Louisville Classic, racing in Blue Division at 10:45 a.m. 

Their success sur­prises even them­selves, according to junior Eric Poth.

“It’s kind of the opposite of last year. Last year we came into the season ranked first in con­ference and things didn’t go our way,” Poth said. “This year we didn’t know what would be going on and things are going our way.”

One reason for the stronger-than-expected start to the season is the return of juniors Eric Poth and Joey Humes, both of whom missed last season due to injuries. Assistant coach R.P. White said both runners have already had an impact this season.

“I think there is comfort in knowing Joey is going to be our low-stick. Our low-stick is our guy who is going to place really high at the races,” White said. “Eric is a guy who brings a blue-collar attitude. He’s going to grind and work hard. Having him be around and not trying to rehab a broken leg has been really ben­e­ficial to the team’s approach to practice.”

Humes began the 2018 season with a G‑MAC con­ference record in the 5k and first-place finish at the Drenth Invi­ta­tional on Aug. 31, and showed no sign of slowing down at the Spartan Invi­ta­tional on Sept. 14, when he fin­ished 13th. 

Not only are Humes and Poth healthy this year, but sophomore runner Jack Shelley will return to the lineup after missing the Spartan Invi­ta­tional due to injury. Sophomore Mark Miller said it is critical for a small cross country team to have every runner healthy. 

“Obvi­ously we don’t have a whole lot of of depth; we only have 10 guys total and nine racing cur­rently,” Miller said. “When you have everybody healthy in training you can go harder and you don’t have to be as careful because you have more numbers to draw from.”

The Greater Louisville Classic is a noto­ri­ously fast course, which will be a big change from the last com­pe­tition at Forest Akers East Golf Course, which is con­sis­tently one of the slower races of the season. The team will also be racing against nearly 50 other schools. Three of the 10 Chargers hold their per­sonal bests for an 8k on this course, and they have the oppor­tunity to achieve more. 

The most sig­nif­icant feature of the Louisville track is a bot­tleneck that limits the runners ability to pass imme­di­ately after the start. White said the team had trained for this quirk and has a strategy to overcome it.

“The course itself bot­tle­necks in the first 500 meters, so if you don’t get out and position yourself well, a lot of times you can dig yourself a pretty deep hole,” he said. “We are going to be pretty agressive up front, espe­cially in the first half-mile. We are going to get in a good position and from there try to settle in to an appro­priate race pace.”

Miller also said that position off the start will be important because of the severe bot­tleneck.

“If you are in the center of a bot­tleneck it can be over­whelming, espe­cially because everyone is coming in to you. If you are on the outside it can be kind of scary and dis­ap­pointing because you can rush ahead and get a spot or be stuck behind the field,” Miller said. “It is just chaotic I guess.”

Despite the bot­tleneck, White said he expects times to be fast and that many of his runners may set per­sonal records this Sat­urday.

“Joey will be ready to PR. Mark will be ready to PR. Eli will be ready to PR. Jack will be ready to PR. Alex Oquist will be ready to PR. We should have a really good day,” White said. “The only thing that could make it a slower day is a bunch of rain in the days leading up to the race and I don’t think that will be the case.”