Cross-country: Storm girl duo’s dedication pays off
Snow flurries danced in the air Monday afternoon as Kate Walsberg and Isabel Schottenbauer ran down a gravel road near Two Harbors High School. They try to keep a “conversational pace” as part of their cross-country training.
The North Shore Storm cross-country team is still practicing in large part due to the performance of Walsberg and Schottenbauer at the Section 7A meet on Oct. 26 at Cloquet Country Club. The pair were the fifth and sixth Storm runners to notch scores at the section meet, where the team qualified for the state meet Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
It will be the first time the entire team has gone to state since 2008.
Eighth-grader Autumn Smith and freshman Cedar Gordon have evolved into the top pair of runners for the Storm, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, at the section meet last week.
The pair are very focused, according to coach Dan Hebl, but the entire team has worked much harder and the work has paid off with solid improvement throughout the season.
“This year we are working a lot harder at practices and we’re getting better results at meets, too,” Gordon said. “Getting up at 6 a.m. and running every day — I think it makes us mentally tough and it takes some grit to do that. It also helps us get more acclimatized to the colder meets.”
Walsberg and Schottenbauer have also worked much harder this year, changing the definition of “conversational pace” in the process.
A “conversational pace” means runners try to run as fast as they can while still maintaining a conversation with their partner.
“Last year, it started to mean, ‘Go as slow as you can while still calling it running,’” Hebl said.
Walsberg and Schottenbauer admit that maybe they didn’t work as hard as they could, but this year, they came back to the team with a renewed commitment to hard work.
“Last year, for both of us, we were really bad slackers, and at the beginning of the year, we were talking at the captain’s practice this summer and we were saying we should try our hardest not to slack during practices,” Walsberg said. “We knew that we could do it and we could be dedicated enough to actually push ourselves.”
Walsberg improved to the point this year where she became the Storm’s consistent fifth — usually final — scoring runner.
Schottenbauer was usually the sixth runner, which usually doesn’t count when scoring meets, but at the section meet, the Storm tied with Mesabi East, sending the scoring to a tiebreaker based on the finish of the both team’s sixth runners.
Schottenbauer said she suspected she started out too fast, but kept pushing even though she “died a little” toward the middle of the race.
“I kept telling myself, ‘What if you are the fifth runner? What if it did count and you’re the reason we don’t go to state?’” Schottenbauer said. “That’s what pushed me a little bit further.”
Schottenbauer’s mother told her at the finish line it looked like she was the sixth North Shore runner to finish.
“All of sudden, we’re standing at the tent and J.C. (Holman) comes running in and says, ‘Guys, did you know we made it to state?’” Schottenbauer said. “We walk over to where the times were posted and saw we tied and they said, ‘Izzie, you were the sixth runner.’ It was very overwhelming.”
Schottenbauer finished about a minute ahead of the sixth runner for Mesabi East, giving the Storm the edge and qualifying the team for the state meet.
Hebl knows all five of the top runners are important, but Walsberg and Schottenbauer’s decision to work harder this season put the team over the top.
“These two push each other. They could be slackers together or they could be committed together,” he said. “These two make the difference because if they don’t make that choice, we’re not here today. No chance.”