Hunter Staack, senior, runs down the final stretch of the five kilometer race. (Alex Kim)
Hunter Staack, senior, runs down the final stretch of the five kilometer race.

Alex Kim

Boys cross country chases down history

Dec 10, 2015

The road to records


provided by Owen Hoeft

The Royals boys team stands with their first place trophy at the Nike Cross Regional meet. They won with a 60 point margin on Nov. 15.

On Thursday, Dec. 3, the Hopkins Royals boys cross country team traveled to Portland, Ore. to compete in Nike Cross Nationals.

However, the journey to the race began in July, when the cross country teams participated in a running camp in Buffalo, Wyoming.  

“[Running camp] helped us realize how hard we needed to work to get to where we wanted to be,” said Owen Hoeft, senior.

After that week in July, the teams were on a mission to be the first Hopkins cross country team ever to qualify for Nationals.

The boys began their season with a good start, winning their first meet at St. Olaf College. Their success continued throughout the season, as they won every regular season meet they competed in.

The boys began their postseason by competing in the “section of death.” The “section of death,” or the 6AA section, consists of perennial cross country powerhouses Wayzata and Edina. The section became tougher as Washburn High School emerged as another team worthy of national recognition.

Despite the high level talent, Hopkins won the section by five points, advancing to the state meet for the second year in a row.

The boys breezed through the state meet at St. Olaf College, emerging as the favorite to win the Heartland regional race in South Dakota. The boys continued their success at Heartland, winning by 64 points.

Their season-long goal had been achieved. The boys team had finally qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals.

“It was just a testament to all of our hard work, and it showed us how dominant we can be when we’re working together,” said Jack Henschel, senior. “It had been a huge goal of ours since last year, and we were just happy to make Nationals.”

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  • The team warms up together before their five kilometer race.

  • Hunter Staack, senior, warms up in the traditional Hopkins blue.

  • Team supporters wave a Hopkins H as the racers come into view.

  • The lead pack of runners at Nationals race close together.

  • Jack Henschel, St. Olaf College, Cross Country/Track- First year on Varsity: Eighth grade, 2011. Favorite memory: Winning State 4X800 in track, and winning State as a cross country team.

  • Hunter Staack and Sam Branson, seniors, run close together at Nike Cross Nationals.

  • Sam Branson, senior, runs to a 115 place finish

  • Seth Eliason, junior, runs not solo but along with a pack of 27 runners who finished within eight seconds of each other.

  • Eli Hoeft, freshman, kicks into his stride against several older runners.

  • Bridger Pavelka, senior captain, pushes down the final stretch.

  • The boys team huddles together at the end of their warmup.

  • Owen Hoeft, senior, strides alongside numerous top runners.

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Experiencing Oregon

After settling in to the all-expenses-paid hotel that Thursday afternoon, the boys attended the opening ceremony. The team heard from a panel of Olympic cross country and track athletes, such as Mo Farah, Matthew Centrowitz Jr., and Galen Rupp.

On Friday, the boys visited the Tiger Woods Center, along with other competitors and Nike sponsored professionals. The boys were surprised when Farah, two-time Olympic gold medalist, approached the team and challenged them to a game of FIFA on the Xbox.

“Mo won, and it was kind of crazy because the whole room came over to watch,” said Hunter Staack, senior.

On Saturday, the boys lined up at the start of the course to compete in the biggest race of their lives and in the history of Hopkins distance running.

Due to constant rain in the days leading up to the race, the course became a trail of mud. On race day, temperatures dropped below 45 degrees and rain continued to fall.

“It was a great race to be a part of because of the talented competition and the difficulty of the course,” said Sam Branson, senior. “The wet and muddy conditions really slowed us down, but we battled and all still ran solid races.”

After the first mile, the boys were back in 13th place out of 22 teams. In the next two miles, all of the Hopkins runners moved up, passing runner after runner as the team advanced to hold seventh place.

The efforts of the Hopkins runners earned them a seventh place finish out of 22 teams. Hoeft was the first runner to cross the line for Hopkins, finishing in 56th place out of 195 competitors. He was followed by Henschel, who finished in 66th place, Seth Eliason, junior, in 82nd place, Staack in 103rd, Branson in 115th, Eli Hoeft, freshman, in 182nd, and Bridger Pavelka, senior, in 183rd.

The Royals weren’t the only competitors representing Minnesota at Nationals. Of the top 100 finishers, eight runners were from Minnesota. Additionally, fellow 6AA members Edina and Wayzata high schools finished 13 and 14, respectively.

Hope for the future

After making school history, the boys hope their efforts this season will pave the way for future Hopkins runners.

“I think that, going forward, this is going to make other runners at Hopkins work harder to try to achieve the greatness that I think we proved was possible,” Henschel said. “I think we put cross country on the map at Hopkins this year.”

While the boys received honors and recognition for their success this season, the team believes the goal is more than just the awards.

“Being a part of something this great makes you realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, and that you’re part of something bigger than you or your team,” Owen said. “This experience made me realize that this whole season hasn’t been for us. It’s been for not only the Hopkins community but for the Minnesota community as a whole.”

With five seniors from the seven-man team graduating this year, Eliason will continue to be a leader going into the 2016 season.

“For next year, we have to rebuild, but that might be a good thing,” Eliason said. “Hopefully the rest of the team was inspired by our performance this year and will get the drive to put in the work for another outstanding season.”

Pullquote Photo

Being a part of something this great makes you realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, and that you’re part of something bigger than you or your team.

— Owen Hoeft, senior captain

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