STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s been a day that Stillwater High School cross country coach Dan Zeroski has been dreading for the last four years — a day when Noah Gade wouldn’t walk through the locker room door.
Even though Gade, a state champion and one of the greatest runners in Stillwater High School history, has long since moved on, there’s a sense of calmness in Zeroski’s voice as he talks about this year’s Pioneers. Why? Because he knows what’s coming back.
“You can’t replace a kid like Noah,” Zeroski said. “But most of the kids were young last year and we’ve got almost everybody back, so the team should be a lot stronger this year because of that year of experience.”
It’s that youth and experience that has Stillwater not just in line for another appearance at state, but with dreams of possibly bringing back a team state title to go along with Gade’s individual title last season.
“Last year we finished 10th and we’re coming back a lot stronger because we have a year of experience,” Zeroski said. “Finishing in the top five is not unrealistic if we keep training like we should.”
Training hasn’t been much of an issue for either the Pioneers or Lady Pioneers this season. It used to be that only a handful of athletes would eclipse 500 miles over the summer and even fewer made it to 700 miles.
That hasn’t been the case this summer as nearly every member of both squads ran 500 miles, with a majority making it 700 miles in the span of about 100 days.
“The kids trained hard this summer,” Zeroski said. “Some of the kids put in up to 700 miles in about 100 days. Last year, we had some kids who didn’t put in very many miles. So this year they’ve come back very strong and committed.”
Two runners who have shown their commitment this summer are senior Zach Porterfield and junior Bo Frohock. Porterfield is expected to be the Pioneers’ lead horse, while Frohock, who finished 66th at state as a sophomore, should also give Stillwater a steady No. 2 runner.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who can have a pretty good season,” Zeroski said. “We’ve also got some new runners that have shown a lot of promise. Our goal is to qualify for state and if they keep training like they are that shouldn’t be a problem.”
While Porterfield and Frohock may be the leaders on the guys’ side, Zeroski isn’t quite sure who will step up to fill the void left by Chablee Sanders for the Lady Pioneers.
“Our lead runner for the ladies right now is Angela Fitch,” Zeroski said. “She’s running very well. She trained hard and it all kind of clicked for her this summer, so she’ll surprise a lot of people early.”
Fellow senior Catherine Petty will join Fitch as the 1-2 punch for the Lady Pioneers this season. But the group that Zeroski is most excited about watching develop are the upcoming freshman and sophomore classes, led by sophomore Rachel Brown and freshman Elisa Rackley.
“We know what they can do and they know what they can do,” Zeroski said. “They did run this summer with a lot of confidence, so they should run very well. Rachel Brown is a sophomore and Rackley is a freshman, so I think they will surprise a lot of people in that first meet.”
Getting both teams to state will no doubt be a challenge, but Zeroski said it all starts with a single step. And that first step will be taken Thursday in Enid as Stillwater opens its season.
“We’re excited about this season,” Zeroski said. “We think we have a good group of kids who have been training hard and have shown a good work ethic all summer, and that should limit the injuries. This first meet should give the kids some confidence and hopefully we can continue to build on that as the season goes.”