The distance Marion head volleyball coach Deanna Thierolf monitors is measured in feet. Football coach Grant Thierolf gets a little more workout covering yards to mentor his players.
Rebecca Hofer often logs more distance in a week than her colleagues do in a season — she coaches the Warrior cross-country team, which measures its practice “field” in miles. Her athletes literally run away from her, and elite runners often are separated by more than a mile from the novices.
So Hofer coaches from the seat of a bicycle, covering more distance than her runners as she darts back and forth passing out direction, encouragement, and water.
“I’m all over,” Hofer said. “I’m the only coach, I don’t even have an assistant. I’m cutting through roads making sure no one gets lost, making sure no one’s walking — I try to keep an eye on everybody.”
Her rides are also essential to keep her runners healthy and safe, Hofer said.
“That’s where the injuries happen, several miles away, and if I’m not out there I don’t know if someone’s been hurt,” Hofer said. “This year because it’s been so hot I’ve been taking water bottles on my bike to keep kids hydrated.”
Cross-country practice isn’t always running long distances. Speed work and running hills are critical components for being a complete runner, Hofer said.
“We’ll go to the track and do repeating 800s, or three-minute drills,” Hofer said. “Earlier this week I had them run hard for three minutes and slow for three minutes, and we did that six to eight times.
“We go to the golf course to run hill repetitions of one minute or 30 seconds. They run hard uphill, relax a little coming down, and turn around and do it again.”
Jordan Hett is arguably Marion’s best chance to earn a state championship in any fall sport. Hett has been to state three times, finishing third in 2011.
“If he works as hard as last year he’ll definitely make it to state again, because he’s a very competitive runner,” Hofer said.
Bringing home the title won’t be easy. Class 3A 2011 state champion Cory Donley of Salina-Sacred Heart and runner-up Cordell Goering of Trinity Catholic of Hutchinson are among seven of the top-10 state finishers returning this season.
Hett has some catching up to do at the outset of his senior campaign, Hofer said.
“He plays a lot of basketball in the summer, which is different running than cross country,” she said. “He’s a little out of running shape, but he works hard at practice.”
If Hett has shown a weakness in the past, it has been near the finish line. Hett is accustomed to running at the front, but has been susceptible to stronger finishing kicks by his rivals.
“Cross-country takes a little different strategy than track, because if you get too far behind the leader then you’ve completely lost it,” Hofer said. “Last year Jordan would get out and stay with a guy, and then in the last half-mile the other guy would win. If he can work on his kick, that would be great.”
Seniors Patrick McCarty and Jacob Cope had qualifying times last year that would have put them in the state meet if they had been running anywhere other than the state’s toughest regional.
McCarty pushed the pace with Hett early in races last season, but with McCarty slowed by injuries starting this year, Hofer hopes Cope will pick up the slack.
“He was right up there with Patrick. I would love to see him up with Jordan and Patrick this year,” Hofer said.
Clark Kroupa and Timothy Knolla currently have the edge over four other teammates to round out the top five, Hofer said.
Junior Kaelyn Thierolf won’t have much company as she hits the course for the Lady Warriors. Thierolf hopes to build on a school-record-setting performance from last season, and will again juggle cross-country with volleyball, Hofer said.
“I’ve only worked with her once so far this season,” Hofer said. “This week she had two-a-days for volleyball. She got the workouts I gave her, but I don’t know how well they went. Starting next week I’ll be doing morning practices with her two days a week.”
Health considerations have sidelined Elizabeth Goentzel and Jenevieve Corona, but they will continue with the team as managers.
Two freshmen, McKenzie Remmers and Shyla Harris, will join Theirolf on race days.
“McKenzie is looking awesome for a freshman. Her times are excellent,” Hofer said. “This is Shyla’s first time ever running distance.”
Hofer’s runners will get their first test of the season Aug. 30 at Abilene.