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.”