Cougars running with the big schools in cross country

STERLING – Never mind any size discrepancies when it comes to the Eastland cross country program.

Competing at the Sterling Invitational at Hoover Park on Saturday, the Cougars competed against some schools with enrollments 10 or 20 times larger than the 190 kids who walk the halls at Eastland High School.

Team championships are out of the question for the Cougars, since they don’t field enough runners to account for scoring. Instead, Cougars coach Kim Haverland challenges her runners in two aspects: against themselves, and against the clock.

Two boys and two girls from Eastland competed in varsity races Saturday against runners from quality programs such as DeKalb, Hononegah, and Pleasant Valley of LeClaire, Iowa – each of which fielded twice to three times more runners than the Cougars.

“They don’t notice that they are a small team,” Haverland said. “They come out and give it their all every single race. Other boxes have full teams and we don’t, but they know they’re competing against themselves and the clock, and that’s how they run from race to race.”

Eastland also competed at the Rock River Run on the same Hoover Park course 2 weekends prior. On Saturday, Mara Schmeider, a freshman, led the Cougars girls with an 85th-place finish in 22 minutes, 10.3 seconds, an improvement of 1:09.3 from the previous race in Sterling. Sophomore Stephen Reifsteck finished 48th with a time of 17 minutes, 27.6 seconds, which was a 19-second improvement from the Rock River Run.

“We didn’t have PRs, but we had great races,” Haverland said.

Christian Hamblen and Adri Hensgen also competed Saturday for the Cougars. Hamblen finished in 21:08.9, and Hensgen in 25:29.5 – an improvement of 1:32.5. Eastland will compete in a 1A regional meet Oct. 21 at Centennial Park in Rock Falls. The Cougars have had two runners advance to the sectional level in the past 3 years. Tyler Dambman qualified in each of the past 2 seasons, and Megan Schmeider qualified 3 years ago.

“We’ve had someone make sectionals in the last couple of years, and I have high hopes this year,” Haverland said. “I have a couple of runners who are doing real well, and that makes me excited for the future, too.”

“Eastland hasn’t had cross country for very long,” Haverland added, “and we’re still building.”

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