For the first time in program history, the Greencastle boys' cross country team finds itself at the IHSAA semi-state after a powerful performance at the Ben Davis Regional. The team has a unique blend of veteran and young runners and the mix has added up to a special season for the Tiger Cubs.
Anchoring the cross country team are seniors Ryan Stevens, Nathan Eubank and Hunter Mitchell. The trio was thrust into a leadership role in their junior season and have thrived ever since.
"Last season we had to take a leadership role because of the absence of seniors during the 2010 season," Eubank said. "There is always pressure to do better, run better, place better, so as far as taking pressure off, not really, but it is unbelievable what they have contributed to this team."
"Coach (Craig) Callahan and I had talked a few times on the phone, and I had a few conversations with my fellow teammates, and I decided to run -- best decision I think I could have made," Mitchell said.
With a fresh crop of talent coming in, Mitchell said the additions to the team have done nothing but strengthen it.
"Coming into the year I knew that we were going to have some freshman runners, but Taylor (Secrest) and Elijah (Brattain) completely shocked me with their abilities. They both put in so much effort and work in order to better the team. It most definitely took some of the pressure off the team as a whole."
Mitchell said having to compete for his spot against a freshman excited him knowing what kind of a lift they would be able to give the team.
While most people might think having freshmen posting impressive times would relieve some pressure, Stevens said it actually added some pressure.
"It has actually put more pressure on us (seniors) because now we see our true potential as a team and see that we all need to improve on our times if we want to accomplish the new goals that we have set for ourselves," he said.
"All in all it has been an honor to be considered a leader of this team; I couldn't have asked for better teammates to be around for my senior year," Mitchell said.
The trio agreed that some of their proudest moments running for GHS have come in their special senior season.
"My proudest moments individually have to be when I look back at how I ran my freshman and sophomore years and how I run now. Not only are my times better, but my attitude as well," Eubank said.
"My proudest moments as a team member come from this season," he continued. "We are, without a doubt, the closest a team can be. We prove every day that we care about the success of each other both on and off the course; whatever it is, we do it as a team."
"In the three years I have been running cross we have had a great amount of success, but some of my proudest moments actually came from this year," Mitchell said. "Beating some big schools like Perry Meridian and Plainfield just proves how much this program is improving, and to be apart of it is just something I will never forget."
When asked how their mentality has changed about racing since their freshman year, all three runners said it hasn't changed much. They said they train hard and race each race as hard as they can. Eubank had the biggest shift in mentality of the three.
"Freshman year I was honestly focused on not coming in last and beating my times every meet. Now I'm focused on placing in top 10s consistently and racing the front pack. In other words, my mentality has changed from survivor to competitor," he said.
Stevens, Eubank and Mitchell all had advice for young runners considering cross country as a sport. All three agreed that the benefits of participating in the sport have an impact beyond just on the course.
"Cross country is one of the most rewarding sports that you can do, but you will have to push your body harder than you ever thought was possible," Stevens said. "The times when it gets hard, you just have to push through the pain and what you achieve in the end will be well worth it."
Mitchell said being successful starts with being mentally tough. He said that some practices that he endured literally broke him at times, but if you're not mentally tough you'll find yourself being broken day in and day out. He also said a runner needs to continue setting new goals as each goal is achieved.
"I might be biased to the sport, but I think that cross country is the best sport that you can do in high school," Mitchell said. "It teaches you so much about yourself. By doing cross country I know that my body can be pushed to levels that I didn't think were possible, and mentally I have become stronger, and I feel like the stronger you are mentally the more you will succeed in life."
"Cross country is tough, not only physically, but mentally. No one can be in your ear for a run to Fillmore and back -- it's you and yourself convincing each other to push through the pain, and never give in," Eubank said.
Whether Saturday's Carmel Semi-state is the end of the road for Tiger Cubs or they find themselves racing in the final race of the season at the state finals, the seniors hope people understand how special the achievements of this year's team are.
"At the end of the season I want nothing more than people to look at our team picture and see a group of young men, strong in body, and strong in faith, believing that there is a purpose to what they do, and there was a purpose to what they did," Eubank said.
Mitchell said he hopes people realize all the hard work the team has put in this season.
"I hope people are able to say that we were a success not because of luck or anything like that, but because we came to practice every day and busted our butt in order to make a statement every week when we ran," Mitchell said. "It's hard for people to know that though because they don't come to our practices, but we are not where we are now because of anything but hard work and dedication."
Stevens might have said it best and did so in just a sentence.
"They just ran till they couldn't run no more," he said.
In addition to Stevens, Eubank and Mitchell, the Tiger Cubs's semi-state team is comprised of juniors Tyler Hudson and Paul Bryan and freshmen Brattain and Secrest. They will compete at the Carmel Semi-state this Saturday 10:30 a.m.