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.”