BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
LOGANSPORT –- The Rochester boys cross-country team did not make semistate.
That might not be considered news when a school with an enrollment of 524 does not make semistate in a one-class sport, but at Rochester it is.
That’s just the second time in 10 years that the Zebras have not made semistate.
Both Peyton Hiatt and Dylan Steininger are headed to semistate, and it's not a new experience for them. It’s the third semistate trip for each, but it’s the first time each has made it as an individual.
Hiatt ran a 17:12 at the regional. That’s 10 seconds off his personal best.
“It feels wonderful,” Hiatt said. “This is going to be the third year in a row. First time without the team, which is a little bit different but a great feeling. It was a trying season, a struggling season, on the boys side, but we stuck together the entire season. We did the best we could. … We made it to regionals, which is a big accomplishment. Semistate is just wonderful.”
“That’s right around the best time he’s run all season,” RHS coach Scott Stalbaum said. “We never ran this course before. From a runner’s standpoint, we really like it. Peyton really liked it. The woods are really cool back here. It’s really scenic. From a coaching standpoint, it’s hard to coach the kids because you only get to see them a couple times. .. Peyton looked really good today. I think he ran really strong.”
Stalbaum said the key for Hiatt at semistate will be to run a controlled pace. Stalbaum said Hiatt got caught up in the fast pace at the gun at semistate and ran out of gas as the race progressed.
Hiatt ran a 17:02 and finished sixth out of 130 runners at the AA boys race at the New Prairie Invitational on Sept. 19.
“Hopefully, he’ll run a little more controlled at semistate this year and not go out too fast and have a really good junior time,” Stalbaum said.
Hiatt runs a consistent first mile at around 5:15. He said the woods at Logansport felt “forever long.” The first half of the woods section is downhill, but the second half is uphill and challenging.
“The goal is to definitely break 17,” Hiatt said. “At New Prairie this year, (I ran) 17:02, so the goal is to definitely break 17 because most likely the last race of last year, so I just want to go based off time, have fun and get into the 16s.”
There was little doubt that Hiatt was going to advance to semistate, even if the team wasn’t.
Steininger’s story was different.
Assistant coach Eric Linn compiled a scouting report, according to Stalbaum. Linn told Steininger that if he broke 18 minutes – his personal best was a 17:57 at the Three Rivers Conference meet two weeks earlier – that he would make semistate. If you go over 18 minutes, you probably won’t make it.
Steininger ran an 18:03 and got the 10th and final individual spot among runners on non-advancing teams. He beat Caston’s Austin Dague for that final spot.
Steininger knew that Dague was a target.
“My goal was to beat Dague,” Steininger said. “He was projected to be 10th, so I knew I had to beat him. I was trying to focus on him.”
“When he had 18:03, I was a little worried,” Stalbaum said. “But on the spreadsheet, it was one of those situations where if he got ahead of Dague, we thought he was in. … It looks like they had a sprint finish there. In the last 200 meters, they were right next to each other. It was a spring finish between the two of them, and Dylan got him, and I think that’s going to be the difference between who made it to semistate and who didn’t.”
Steininger ran about 50 miles a week over the summer. He said the work paid off. He also said having younger brother Wes on the team made him a better leader.
“I think it definitely paid off,” Steininger said. “It was very tough, but I made it through it. ... It wasn’t necessarily fun, but I know that it made me better. I have not ran mileage like that before in the summer, so had I not done that, I could very well be back where Wesley is right now today.”
Chris Rohr was RHS’ third runner after running an 18:36.
The most pleasant surprise might have been freshman Wes Steininger, who ran an 18:57 and finished 58th.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t actually sure if Wesley was going to break 20 minutes,” Stalbaum said. “My goal for him was maybe a 19:45 by the end of the year based on his middle school times. And then he kinda got that pretty early, so I was like, ‘Let’s go 19:30.’ Today, why not? Let’s make your goal 19-flat. And he broke it. He is well ahead of schedule for everything we wanted this year.
“He is a very determined athlete that puts himself through a whole lot of pain to meet goals.”
Rochester boys cross-country semistate qualifiers, from left, Peyton Hiatt and Dylan Steininger