Runners ready for Rich Engel

Former Cross Country coach Rich Engel “had a passion for the kids, the running and Cedar Falls,” according to men’s cross country coach Troy Becker. “He was great with dealing with kids and had a fun personality. We make sure the athletes that come through the program are familiar with his story.”

Engel passed away in 2001 due to health issues, which initially forced him to give up coaching. Every year since then, Cedar Falls has hosted a cross country meet to ensure that Engel’s spirit stays due to the dedicated and passionate athletes that run his course.

The Rich Engel 5k race will be held Thursday, Sept. 15 at Birdsall Park. The races are as follows:

-fresh/soph women, 4:30 p.m.

-fresh/soph men, 5 p.m.

-JV women, 5:30 p.m.

-JV men, 6 p.m.

-varsity women, 6:30 p.m.

-varsity men, 7 p.m.

The Rich Engel Classic stands out among all meets as the top meet for the Tigers due to the “Family and friends adrenaline rush,” women’s coach Don Williams said.

Williams, referred to as a “loveable grandfather coach,” has been coaching for 27 years.

“I just love it,” he said. “I love the drills. I love the dedicated girls and how wonderful the kids are. I’m blessed to be part of such a group of athletes.”

And he has high hopes for the women’s prospects at State this year. “I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but I’m very optimistic,” he said with a chuckle.

Williams attributes the post-season prospects to the depth of the varsity and the tightness of their pack.

He said in past years that “sometimes the work ethic is there, yet raw talent can be lacking.” He said recently, that the team has made big strides.

The varsity girls rank fourth this year, a leap from their ninth place ranking last year.

Their biggest competitors are currently Ankeny Centennial and Urbandale, according to the team.

The boys are thinking along the same lines as they, “Hope to qualify for State and see our top varsity runner, Sam Schillinger,

win an individual state championship,” Becker said.

The boys rank 10th in the state, and have a decided competitor.

“I think the toughest competitor would be Dubuque Hempstead. They barely beat us the last time,” Schillinger said with particularly strong emphasis on “barely.”

But competition like that is what the verteran runners crave. Senior Allison Zierke has been running since she was in junior high. She said she loves the family atmosphere cross country creates and the unique support at the Rich Engel.

“We know the course so well,” she said. “We definitely have the advantage. It’s always fun watching opponents ght up our grueling hill knowing we practice on that hill and are ready for it.”

Zierke is well known for her strong voice in the team chant. It is one of her favorite things to lead, and she loves getting the team red up.

“But one of the most enjoyable factors would have to be the team prayer. It really allows my focus to be centered on

God and to be thankful I have a healthy body capable to run.”

Zierke does not plan to run college cross country, yet she has enjoyed the experience, she said. She is pumped to run her last Rich Engel and to leave her hometown proud. She will be aiming to shatter her current 19:39 personal record.

Varsity runner Madison Larsen, a junior, said she really looks forward to another year running at the Rich Engel as well. “We’ve done it countless times; we have the advantage,” she said. “We always get a great family like crowd, and it’s just … just really great.”

Larsen said she’s also a big fan of the determination it takes to run hard for 3.1 miles.

“Cross country is better than any sport because it’s both physically and mentally demanding,” she said. “This makes it immensely rewarding.”

But it’s not all work and no play. One word that surfaces in all conversations with cross country runners is their love of the weekly, “Feast.”

Schillinger said the feasts are a good way of “letting all my good emotions out with the team and not having to worry about anything ’cause we know we worked hard and don’t have to worry about anything. The positive upbeat vibe is there, and it is always a great time. Often we add music. This feasting usually takes place on the bus ride home.”

Schillinger placed first in the state for men last year with a 15:40, and he plans to run in college. He cannot stress more his love for the sport.

“Cross country goes above and beyond because no matter how talented you are, you get to compete every time, and something happens in you when you can actually see your progress through your time dropping,” Schillinger said. “I’ve also met amazing people through it. Amazing people.”

And like every Tiger racer, Schillinger’s passionate about the Rich Engel home meet.

It is by far his favorite meet to run for many reasons including “Pride, family and the beat of the drums matching the beat of my heart.”

For a story on the  Cross Country team going to state, click here. Also, Women’s Cross Country qualifier Cassidy Christopher shares her inspirations here.

Below, is a video on runner Sam Schillinger breaking the school record.

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