• Relatively young team relies on “mental toughness” and strong work ethic to turn in fast times
By Sean Pearson
Homer Cross Country Coach Bill Steyer has a lot to be fired up about this fall. Not only did he see some 25 students come out for the sport this season, he’s also returning some of the top 3A runners in the state.
“I’m excited about numbers,” Steyer said on Monday. “
We’ve got about 25 runners, which is the biggest team I’ve had since I started coaching. And we are right around 50-50 as far as boys and girls.”
Steyer lost Connor McCarron — a consistent top 10 finisher — to graduation in May, and sophomore Barae Hirsch recently moved to Anchorage. Otherwise, he’s sitting on a galloping gold mine of talent.
For the Lady Mariners, sophomore Aurora Waclawski looks to turn heads after finishing 12th at State last year as a freshman.
“We have a super-strong group of sophomore young women who are very good,” Steyer said. “With Aurora, Aziza (Shemet-Pitcher) and Molly (Mitchell), we are looking to repeat or do better than last year.”
The Lady Mariners took second place overall behind Grace Christian last year. And this season, Steyer has a few new runners up his sleeve that just might give the Lady Grizzlies a run for the state title.
Steyer picks up two fast freshmen in former Huskies Megan Pitzman and Lauren Evarts; as well as a sophomore transfer, Shenandoah Lush. He said he also expects to see some good things from Lady Mariner Pam Jantzi.
On the boys’ side of the team, Steyer returns senior standout Pedro Ochoa, who finished 11th at State last year. Overall, the team placed third. A little more depth this season should help with team stats.
“We are seeing nice numbers of boys participating this year,” Steyer said. “Most of them are younger guys, so it will still be a bit of a rebuilding year. Still, we have at least very three strong runners in Pedro, Josh VanTrease and Brandon Beachy.”
Steyer said Ochoa had a bit of a setback over the summer when he contracted pneumonia.
“Pedro was down for a bit, but I think he’s come back even stronger,” he said. “He’s running pretty fast. He just ran a 4:27 in the 1500.”
The upperclassmen will get some much-needed back-up from new guys Jared Brant, August Kilcher, Marley McGuire and Dakota Alward.
“We’re getting some of these wrestling guys in and that’s good, because they are mentally tough,” Steyer said. “You need to be mentally tough to run cross country.”
And you have to be tough on a consistent basis for Steyer. The team runs a 1500-meter in practice every week, and the top seven times each week earn a spot on the varsity team.
“We are still at the beginning of the season, and I have about 3-5 runners who can run a mile under six minutes,” he said. “That’s faster than what they were running at the end of last season. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
He added that his overall goal is to rebuild the running culture in the community. Much growth came over the past year and the establishing of the Kachemak Bay Running Club. The club has held a variety of events around town to help raise money for the school cross-country team.
The Mariners head to Nikiski on Monday to compete in the Nikiski Class Races, and then trek back north on Saturday, Aug. 24 for a meet at Skyview.
“This is one of the best meets we have all season,” Steyer said. “We will see teams from all over the state coming to compete in this one. It gives everyone a good chance to check out the competition.”
Homer will hold its invitational on Aug. 30, as well as Cross Country Relays on the Lookout Mountain Ski Trails on Sept. 21.
“It’s a good race to have the weekend before Regions, because it adds in a speed element you wouldn’t have in a regular practice. Competition makes everyone run faster.”
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