Stillwater News Press

October 23, 2013

Mystery of unknown surrounds Stillwater runners in regional

By Nick Snow

STILLWATER, Okla. — These days Stillwater High School cross country coach Dan Zeroski grinds his teeth a little more in his sleep — or at least what little sleep his body will allow.

Zeroski has faced a lot of sleepless nights over the last week or so as the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers prepare for Saturday’s regional at Oral Roberts University.

The reason? It’s the realm of the unknown.

Stillwater could have both teams qualify for state. Or they could have none. It all just depends on how well each team runs.

“Looking at our top five runners, we are sitting at eighth right now for the guys, and the top seven go to state,” Zeroski said. “The girls are sitting 10th, but teams from sixth through 10th are all pretty much even. Whoever has the best race on Saturday will get in.”

Not knowing whether or not his teams will get in makes any coach want to start popping antacids. But Zeroski has another major concern.

Two of his Pioneer runners haven’t ran for nearly a month.

Fresh off a stress fracture in his hip Nathan Herrmann will return to the Pioneer lineup, along with Conner Akin, who has seen limited action this season after an early-season injury.

“We have two seniors that have been out most of the year,” Zeroski said. “Each week they’re getting better and better. If they can run well at regionals, we’ll have no trouble getting in.

“We’re somewhat nervous because we don’t know their potential yet. For (Herrmann) this is going to be his third race back. He’s getting better each week and he was one of our top runners before he went out.”

But for all that’s unfamiliar heading into Saturday’s regional, one key element remains the same — the course.

Stillwater ran the same course a little over a month ago in the Bishop Kelley meet.

Now Zeroski is hoping that experience may give Stillwater the edge it needs to send two teams to state.

“It’s a lot of rolling hills,” Zeroski said. “It does make a difference if you ran on a course like that before. It’s like the OSU course with the rolling hills, so it’s a strategy race.”

And like any good strategist, Zeroski said he’s been putting his team through the trials the last few weeks in preparation for the difficult course.

“Our bodies are used to it,” Zeroski said. “That gives us a little advantage, training on hills. A lot of teams just train on flat ground all year. It does make a difference if you don’t train. You have to have that leg strength to go up those hills. The last mile of the race or so is uphill so you have to have that leg strength.”

No doubt both teams will need every ounce of strength they have just to get to state. Along with state powerhouses Jenks and Owasso, Stillwater will be competing against 15-time defending Class 5A champion Bishop McGuinness and Oklahoma City powerhouse Westmoore.

“They brought three teams from the west side of the state over to the east side and that’s going to make that regional that much more difficult,” Zeroski said. “Westmoore is one of the top men’s and women’s teams on the west side and they’re now on the east side. They’ve also moved Bishop Kelley and Bishop McGuinness up to 6A, so that makes 6A that much more tougher and harder to get through regionals.”

Even with all the uncertainty that surrounds Saturday’s race, Zeroski said his team feels confident. He’s expecting senior Zach Porterfield to lead the Pioneers and possibly finish in the top five, while Elise Rackley should pace the Lady Pioneers in what looks to be a shootout finish for that final state spot.

“This is what we’ve been working all year for,” Zeroski said. “It all comes down to this regional meet. Our main goal every year is to make it to state, so we feel pretty good about our chances.”