BY MADISON SHAPLAND
The Fort Hays State Cross Country team began the year with two successful outings where the women placed 1st at the Terry Masterson Twilight Classic (Sept. 1) and 5th at the Missouri Southern Stampede Saturday (Sept. 17). The FHSU men placed 2nd and 9th at the respective meets.
With these successes on their back, the Tigers radiate confidence and determination for their season ahead.
“I’m feeling super confident about this season,” sophomore Gretchen Kuffel said. “This team has been bringing a positive and energetic attitude day in and day out. After the first meet in Hutchinson and taking the team victory there was a powerful and inspiring atmosphere. It gave me chills. I truly think this will be a great season.”
Fellow sophomore Grant Bradley added to Kuffel’s confidence.
“It’s been my first full summer of healthy training & I put in a lot of work that I trust will pay off,” he said.
Bradley and Kuffel have been leaders for the men’s and women’s teams so far this year. Bradley finished 3rd in both competitions while Kuffel has 1st and 7th place finishes under her belt.
“As a team, we just have to work on staying consistent and working together every chance we get,” Bradley said on the team’s focus for their next few competitions.
In regards to the team dynamic, Kuffel added that this year has been a “complete change in attitude” and she can tell every one of her teammates wants to be here and run fast.
This is in part due to the team’s mission statement this year: We are a united team that strives for H.E.R.: Honor, Energy, and Resilience. Are you in for H.E.R?
“This gives us a purpose to race and work hard for something bigger than ourselves,” Kuffel said. “H.E.R. means anything, it could be your mom, grandma, the girl watching you in the stands, the girl in the hospital that wishes she could run, or your team, it can be anything important to you.
“With this mission statement we have been accomplishing a lot, not only with personal records, wins, and breaking records, but accomplishing team bonding, learning about each other’s struggles, and being there for each other when we are going through a hard time. This family is truly doing something amazing.”
On an individual level, Kuffel said she has a seizure disorder and she was not able to finish a cross country race last year.
“It was devastating and totally broke my confidence. However our assistant Coach Brandon at the time told me ‘Gretchen I totally see you as a national competitor’ and when he said that I was like ‘Um I can’t even finish a race right now what are you talking about’ but he worked with me so much and because he believed in me, I started to believe in myself, that I can do hard things, I can suffer longer on this course. This year warming up for our first meet I was pretty nervous because I haven’t raced a cross country race since my senior year of highschool but with the support of the team and coaches I was able to pull through and have a great race.”
Cross country is very demanding on the body. Athletes typically run for seventeen to twenty-two minutes in a race. Preparing for these races usually includes running 50-80 miles in a week.
“The biggest challenge for me is staying healthy, I am very injury prone and it’s affected me my whole life in athletics,” said Bradley.
Looking to the future, the athletes are most excited for the opportunity to compete at the national level.
“I’m looking forward to staying healthy, having a team of guys who love what they do and fight for the best outcome in each race and hopefully coming together as a team to be top in the conference and region and I am hoping myself and/or the team get to represent FHSU at NCAA’s,” Bradley said.
“I truly think we can do big things at conference and I really do believe we can make it to nationals,” Kuffel said.
Long distance running creates a bond unlike any others. Kuffel described this experience saying what excites her for conference is seeing and competing with some of her friends in the MIAA. One such friend is Caoline Cunningham.
“She has been a huge remodel for me and it’s people like her that remind me why I love this sport so much,” Kuffles said. “At the end of the day when we all cross the finish line we all went through that same pain and every runner knows that. So we push pass the rivalry, jealousy, and pride and we congratulate each other and build relationships outside our team.
“Running is such a powerful thing.”
FHSU Cross Country competes tomorrow at the Gans Creek Classic in Columbia, Missouri.