Despite regional disappointment, the Purple Pack gave it all

After a successful season, the varsity cross country team seeks to continue it's success in 2015

From left to right: junior varsity star Kyle Kehling, and varsity captains Eric Huff and Michael Huschart

From left to right: junior varsity star Kyle Kehling, and varsity captains Eric Huff and Michael Huschart

The 2011 season was a grim one for Elder fall sports. Golf was successful, but football finished 2-8, and soccer finished 5-9 with four ties. Unfortunately the Elder cross country team fared no better. For the first time in more than four decades, the Purple Pack failed to get to regionals.

The next season, the Pack qualified for regionals, though only getting 9th place out of 16 teams. In 2013, the team was four points away from qualifying for state, being edged out by Beavercreek. With those defeats fresh in their memory, the team had state on their minds going into the 2014 season.

Leading the squad were seniors Eric Huff and Michael Huschart, who ran sub-17 minute 5ks for the whole season. The other varsity runners were seniors Nick Rackers, Andy Buelterman, and Nick Ellerhorst, and juniors Eric Ostertag and Drew Mack. With five of the top seven runners being seniors, the 2014 team was the oldest varsity team in years.

After a great third place finish at the district meet, the cross country team traveled to Troy for the regional meet. In a sickening reversal of fortunes, the Pack fell back and finished in 10th place.

While it didn’t end on a high note, the team had a rather successful season. Captain Eric Huff said, “I can unequivocally say we had a successful season. In many ways, I think we proved a lot of doubters wrong. We ran some really good team races, especially at the Les Eisenhart Invitational and the District meet. Our finish at the Regional meet was a poor indicator of our team’s ability.”

The team took first place in its first two meets in the sweltering heat at Wilmington and Lebanon. Captain Michael Huschart recalled, “The high points in my mind for the team though were winning back to back meets to begin the season at Wilmington and Lebanon.”

They wouldn’t take first for the remainder of the season, but they still found success. With the exception of the Mason Invitational and regionals, the Purple Pack finished in the top four in every meet, which is impressive considering that most meets usually have more than 10 teams competing. The overall season record was 182-36, meaning that Elder beat a total of 182 teams and lost to only 36.

Not only did the varsity team perform well as a whole, many runners stepped up as individuals to get the job done. According to Huschart, a senior, “This year the guy that stepped up the most was the Elder Purple Quill editor Nick Rackers. Kid put in a ton of hard miles over the summer and it really showed as his times dropped tremendously between junior and senior year.”

“Nick Ellerhorst was the senior that stepped up the most this year, in my opinion. He took advantage of his first opportunity to run a varsity race at the Miamisburg meet and didn’t look back. He was one of the hardest working guys on our team. Juniors Drew Mack and Eric Ostertag stepped up and contributed consistently at the varsity level, and their experience next year will be key to the team’s success,”

Elder should have a successful season in 2015 as well. Juniors Eric Ostertag and Drew Mack have a season of varsity experience, as well as sophomore Ryan Schenkel, who ran varsity early in the fall.

There are also some runners from the JV team who, while having no varsity experience, are likely to move up to varsity in the fall of 2015. “Several JV guys, including Danny Theders, Kyle Kehling, Kyle Kroeger, and Ryan Schenkel will play major roles on the team next year, and I expect all of them to be running at the varsity level,” said Huff.

Nick Merk, a freshman from St. Martin’s, ran at the Les Eisenhart meet in Columbus, where Elder only took the 14 best runners. Merk even ran a 17:30 at the open district race, an astonishing time for a freshman. He will likely take a place on the varsity team next year.

Along with raw talent, next year’s team will be driven to pick up where the 2014 guys left off. In the words of junior Kyle Kehling, “After this year’s disappointing results at the Regional meet, I think that it has inspired the whole team to work harder so that next year we are walking out of Troy with a much happier attitude.  You could see the despair in the seniors’ faces, and next year I want to be leaving the regional meet with at least one more race ahead, State.”

With both new and returning faces on the varsity team, one thing will be certain next year: the Pack will be back.