Panthers look back on season of triumphs

 

Mary Hohnholt

Left to right, Hunter Mason, Andrew Janecek-Oiler, Ben Falk, Cameron Collamer, Braxton Schwartzkopf, Milo Hunter and Aaron Kerbs of the boys' team show off their second-place plaque at the state meet in Sheridan.

After the boys placed second at the state meet, Saratoga cross-country coach Rex Hohnholt looks back on a season filled with improvement.

Saratoga's 2A boys' team placed second out of nine 2A boys' teams that ranked at state, which took place Oct. 26 in Sheridan. The team earned 58 points with a total time of 1:15:11.20, and an average finishing time of 18:47.80.

The winning 2A boys team was Wyoming Indian, with 20 points and a time of 1:11:18.02, and third place was Lovell, with a time of 1:15:31.77 and four points behind Saratoga.

"We knew how good we were and that it would be tough to beat Wyoming Indian, but our kids ran well against them," Hohnholt said. "We were definitely one of the smallest 2A teams, and we were competing against stiff competition from Lovell, Pine Bluffs, Burns. State was a testament to how hard our kids work, how well they get along and how much they compete for. They were competing for not only themselves, but also for their teammates and community."


Senior Panthers Cameron Collamer and Ben Falk received All-State honors for their Top 10 placements. Collamer placed fifth with a time of 17:50.42, while Falk placed 10th with a time of 18:10.21.

Saratoga junior Andrew Janecek-Oiler, who was in his first year of cross-country, made 20th place with 19:22.43. Altogether, Saratoga's varsity boys competed in a group of 56 runners during their 2A race.

Hohnholt said that out of 13 or 14 2A boys' teams present at State, a second place ranking for his smaller group of boys was quite impressive.

"A second place finish is a reminder to you as a coach of what kids can do when they sacrifice for their teammates and practice each day," he said. "The kids listened and trained and were willing to make sacrifices. They were seeing how far they could push themselves, and there was no one who did not improve. That's really refreshing for me as a coach."

Hohnholt was also proud of his seniors for finishing strong in their last-ever high school cross-country race.

"As seniors, Cameron or Ben will never get to do that kind of stuff again, so when they were done, I wanted them to have nothing more to give" he said. "For Cameron to break into 17 minutes, when he hadn't ever been below 18 minutes, is tremendous. When Ben was done, he couldn't walk and he had a headache, and he didn't have one ounce of energy left."

Collamer, Falk and Janecek-Oiler, according to Hohnholt, showed the best times they had managed all season while at State.

"Cameron ran one-and-a-half minutes faster than he has all year, and Ben was about a minute and 50 seconds faster than he had run all year," he said. "To be nearly two minutes faster that you have run all year is quite an achievement, and Andrew also ran about 40 seconds faster than he usually had during the year. There were steps made and gains occurred, and they did so much physically and had a don't-give-up attitude. We knew we would at least be in the top 4."

Crediting the other boys' team runners, Hohnholt gave shout-outs to Hunter Mason, Aaron Kerbs, Braxton Schwartzkopf and Milo Hunter.

"Hunter got 15 seconds off his usual time, and Aaron Kerbs also did great and dropped minutes off his usual time," he said. "Braxton ran great for just coming out of golf and running for only three weeks with us, and he gave all he had. Milo also dropped minutes off his usual time, and ended up running one-and-one-half minutes faster than he ran all year."

Hohnholt also congratulated his two girls, Katie Loose and Cruz Escobedo, for their effort at state, in what he called stiff competition for 2A girls. He said Loose had run around 30 seconds faster than she usually had all year.

"Katie placed 13th as only a freshman and ran exceptionally well," Hohnholt said. "She'll trust you and do anything you say, and she know how and what it takes to be successful in this sport. With Cruz, people don't know that she's in pain every time she runs because of horrible knees. The pain the poor young girl is in is a testament to her and her teammates, and it's great that we're able to get so much out of her."

Although it was the final meet of the year, Hohnholt said his team members were also the most relaxed they had been all season long. He said also the kids were focused and determined to run faster than they had in past meets.

"At state we know how to run well, and we never went into a state meet not thinking we couldn't run our best all year," Hohnholt said. "We went about our business all year long with a goal in mind to be successful and see how we progress. Seeing how fatigued those kids were and how much they worked was great, and knowing that you couldn't get another second out of them. In that race they just ran amazing."

Hohnholt said one of the things that amazes him most about the team is the large amount of trust created within him and all nine runners.

"The kids have to trust you as a coach, and you have to trust in them," he said. "We have spent a lot of long hours together, and the kids know I'm a planner and not a strategist. There's a progression level to it. I'll tell the kids they need to do this and that to be successful and they may not like it, but they would never complain and would just give their best effort."

Mental preparation and determination was also attributed as a major part of the team's success at State.

"For the last race of the year, you as a coach constantly remind them to put in the work and mental preparation on their own," Hohnholt said. "I tell them they need to show what separates them from the others. I have the mentality that they're going to run against the best and be able to handle it and get better. When they get to state they're going to be well-prepared for anything to be thrown at them, and they'll know how far they can push themselves to be successful."

Hohnholt said it was incredible to see so many of his runners show their best performances and achieve their fastest times at the final meet of the season.

"I never had a whole group of kids, including all nine of them, excel like that at the exact meet," he said. "It was a great feeling, and I saw the effort the kids all put out. This showed how hard they worked one day at a time this year."

Collamer, who has run with the team since he was a freshman, said the second-place ranking came from an entire team effort, and not just one individual runner.

"Last year we got like fifth or sixth place, so to bounce back like we did was such a great feeling," he said. "To make All-State was also an amazing feeling. For the past couple of years we've only had one person get up into All-State, so to finally have a teammate to be up there was really great. It was a fast field up there with Wyoming Indian and Lovell, and with the level of competition, placing that high made us feel pretty accomplished."

Falk, who ran only in his freshman and senior years, said everyone on the team pushed each other to reach times not achieved before in the season.

"It was unimaginable, and I think everyone really pushed themselves and worked their hardest to accomplish that," he said. "Everyone ran their best time, and Cameron cut off so much and I did too. We had such a good team, and that's really what I enjoyed about the sport. We had fun times and lots of memories."

Falk said he had a goal in mind to at least make the Top 10 at state, after missing the cut by two spots his freshman year.

"My freshman year I got 12th place, and if you get 10th place you're All-State," he said. "I remembered that, and when I was coming up the hill Mr. (Jared) Mason was yelling at me and told me I was in 13th place. I knew I had to start really working because I wasn't going to miss out again. I got 10th place barely and it was close, but I'm glad I pushed myself."

Like Falk, Collamer said he is going to miss the team he was part of for 2013.

"I'm definitely going to miss the coaches and all the teammates," he said. "I've become such a runner, and I'm the runner I am today because of all the teammates that have pushed me. No great athlete comes without a great coach and great teammates, and I've had so many teammates who have just been amazing to me."

 

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