Lutheran cross country team runs at state Saturday
No more waiting. No more seeing.
Cross country was the only fall sport to start on time in Wisconsin, but Lutheran boys coach Jeff Jurss still told his team the first day of practice to have a wait-and-see mentality.
“I just kept saying that,” he said. “I told them the only thing they could control is their practicing, their running, and we’ll wait and see. We’ll wait and see if we’re going to have Day 2 of practice. If we’ll ever have any meets. If we have a meet, then we’ll wait and see if we have another meet.
“As the weeks went by, we would be like almost we can’t believe the season keeps going, you know? Seriously, we were waiting to see if we’d get shut down. Is school going to be cancelled? Are sports going to be cancelled? It was kind of like, ‘hey, we’re going to do what we can, as long as we can do it.’ And it kept going. So it’s been awesome in that way.”
So awesome, Lutheran gets to run in the Division 3 state meet on Saturday to cap an unusual season the Crusaders will finish without any problems.
“We’re blessed to make it through the whole season,” Jurss said. “Other schools got halfway through and they were done. We ran our full meets. We never had to stop. We never had to miss a practice. Our schedule wasn’t the way it was originally set – we had a lot of cool meets we were going to go to – and we ended up hosting meets at our school.
“Usually we host three, but we had six at our school because other meets were cancelled. Schools were looking for meets, and since we had a course all set up, we were like, ‘yeah, sure, how about on Saturday?’ Six or eight teams would come on Saturday and we’d have a meet. … We were amazed we made it through the whole season.”
One of the reasons Lutheran got to state for the first time since 2016 – and won its first Big East Conference championship since 2013 – was all five of its runners from last season returned.
Another reason is they ran six days a week from mid-March until the start of practice.
“We knew what we were capable of and what could happen if we put in the work,” senior Hans Gruben said.
Gruben was joined by three other seniors (Dominic Willadsen, Jonah Jurss, and Matthew Witte) and a junior (Logan Zak). Sometimes sophomore Zach Glewen would also run with the group.
They started shortly after Lutheran’s defending state champion basketball team had its season cut short one victory shy of returning to the tournament and a bit after the track season began.
Then, Gov. Evers ordered the state shutdown because of COVID-19.
Jurss could not oversee the runs, but the boys would ask him what their workouts should consist of.
“They were assuming on March 12, at some point we would come back to school and there would be a track season,” Jurss said. “Time just kept going on and they kept on running. They’d do track workouts, distance runs, hill workouts, mainly because there was nothing else you could do. They just kept running.”
Eventually track and all other spring sports were cancelled, but the group runs now continued for cross country.
“I think it kept their mind off of what was going on in the world,” Jurss said. “The one thing they could still control or still do was get together and run. They worked hard at making sure they were socially distanced and they were always outside.”
The group ran all over the city, according to their coach, and they met at a new spot each time. Jurss even had to tell them to take a day off regularly.
“They would have run every day of the week,” he said. “I was like, ‘you can’t. You’ll get injured.’ At first, they took Sundays off because we wanted everybody going to church – but then you couldn’t even go to church. So then we did run on Sunday and we took a different day off. I think it ended up being Monday because we thought some of the guys were going to be in summer-league basketball. But then summer-league basketball was cancelled also.”
Witte says there was not a day he did not want to run because he was motivated by missing out on spring sports and what was waiting for the cross country team this fall. Some team members even ran while on vacation.
“It shows that we all have big goals and we know what we want to obtain, and we understand that hard work must be put in in order to complete the goals that we want,” Witte said.
Jurss said the team showed up the first day of practice with real good base miles on their legs because of all the running. As a result, Lutheran could start doing speed workouts right away without worrying about injuries.
“The goal was what happens Saturday, to have that opportunity to compete for a state championship,” Jurss said.