By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Last weekend the Stillwater High School boys cross country team barely squeezed into the state meet after finishing sixth in regionals.
Saturday, the Pioneers hope to make a little more noise when they head to Edmond for the state cross country meet.
“I think they’re capable of getting in the top 10 in team scores,” Stillwater coach Dan Zeroski said. “It’s really up to the kids. We’ve been training all week and I think the kids are motivated. They worked hard to get to this point, so if our top five scorers have a good race we should finish in the top 10.”
Leading the Pioneers will be senior Noah Gade. After finishing second last season, Gade is expected to be the favorite to win the meet and become the first Stillwater individual champion since Tyson Eschelle did it in 1989.
“He was state runner-up last year and ran a 15:30,” Zeroski said. “I think he should run around 15 minutes if everything goes right. It’s been a while since we had a state champ, so it’d be nice to see him win it. He worked hard to get there.”
It isn’t just Gade that’s expected to lead the pack of Pioneers looking for its first team state championship in school history. Senior Sam Smith, who has battled injuries all season, will also help set the pace.
Smith suffered a knee injury at last week’s regional meet after injuring his foot at the Cowboy Jamboree. Zeroski said those nagging injuries won’t stop Smith from competing on Saturday.
“He’ll run no matter what,” Zeroski said. “Last year he didn’t get to run any races because of an injured leg. It was very frustrating. This is his last race, so he’s going to run no matter what.
“Last week was the first time he ran in three weeks. He’s been running this week and he’s really gotten into a grove. I think he should run a lot better than he did last week.”
If there is one concern, it’s how well some of the younger runners like sophomore Bo Frohock and junior Zach Porterfield perform under the pressure of the state meet. But having already ran in the Cowboy Jamboree and the Chili Pepper Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., Zeroski said Frohock and Porterfield should be up to the challenge.
“We’ve ran in some big meets and they had no trouble handling that pressure,” Zeroski said. “We have some young runners in the group and that’s why we went to some of these big meets this year — to get them used to that pressure.”
Whether or not Stillwater can bring home a state title remains to be seen. One thing is certain, Zeroski said the Pioneers won’t be holding anything back.
“We kind of know how we stack up already since there aren’t a lot of variables in cross country as there are in football or another sport,” Zeroski said. “We’re just going go out there and run the best race that we can.”