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Cross-Country: He’s next in line

Following a long line of strong leaders, Zeke Sather tries to make his mark at LQPV/D-B

110419.S.WCT.A CC Zeke Sather LQPVDB.jpg
LQPV/D-B's Zeke Sather stays in step with Springfield/Cedar Mountain's Mitchell Buerkle at the finish of the Class A state cross-country championship race on Nov. 2, 2019 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

MADISON — The Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd cross country program has been carried by a slew of talented athletes through its recent era of success.

This year, it’s Zeke Sather’s turn to lead the pack on the field and off it.

Coming off a strong junior campaign, the senior was ranked 12th individually in Class A by the Minnesota Cross Country Coaches Association. Sather was the highest ranked runner in the area.

“He’s driven, but he’s also very coachable, too,” LQPV/D-B head coach John Shrub said of Sather. “He’s learned a lot from being around older kids. We’ve had a pretty good run here and he’s seen and been involved in it. That’s been a good maturing process for him.”

On Sept. 3, Sather took first place with a time of 17 minutes, 19.73 seconds during the team’s season-opening meet at the Appleton Golf Course. The boys team, which was ranked fourth in the preseason poll, earned the victory with five of the top-six finishers.

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Despite the great results from the first meet, Sather and the rest of the LQPV/D-B squad are dealing with an obstacle that teams and leaders from past years didn’t have to concern themselves with: COVID-19.

During the summer, the program usually takes a team trip to Duluth where it gets to take part in team-bonding activities. This summer, that trip was canceled because of the pandemic.

The team is currently in quarantine after a member of the program tested positive for the virus this week.

“The coronavirus really put a damper on what we usually do starting out the beginning of the season,” Sather said. “Usually we get to go against some of the top teams in the state at the beginning of the year and we haven’t been able to do that this year, which is kind of hard to judge where we’re at as a team.”

Strange year

Even if or when the season resumes, the scene will be different than in years past. Only three teams can participate during a meet and runners have to wear masks when they aren’t warming up or competing.

“The meets overall this year are a lot different with a lot fewer teams and a lot fewer runners, which isn’t ideal, but you just gotta roll with the punches,” Sather said.

One of the hardest punches Sather had to shake off was the cancellation of this past spring’s athletic calendar. Competing in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, Sather had hopes of a big junior track and field season.

Those hopes were dashed.

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“It hurt. I was really looking forward to being one of the top runners in the state in the two-mile,” he said.

Sather continued training during the spring, albeit by himself, as state rules restricted team practices and gatherings. As the spring rolled into summer and the rules were loosened, Sather coordinated runs with his fellow teammates.

He admits training alone wasn’t fun and appreciates the time putting in work with his comrades.

“We’re all pretty good friends on the team,” he said. “We’re not just going to practice with each other and leave. We socialize a lot and have a good time together. I couldn’t really pick out a single person from the team, but we all have a really good bond with each other.”

Shrub adds, “He’s taken up a leadership role and has been trying to get young and old involved. He tries to keep contacts so if we’re having practice in the morning, he puts together information to be in contact with the kids so they know what’s going on.”

Mentors

Sather says he’s absorbed his leadership style from the LQPV/D-B runners that came before him. When asked who were some of his biggest influencers, he named two 2019 graduates: Mike Kvaal and Griffin Johnson.

“I had two seniors last year that really helped me push me through the year, keep my times up and were people I could run with,” Sather said. “It really helps having someone in practice and also in meets to pace myself off of and not really try to beat, but really work with each other to get the best time. We kind of alternated winning meets.”

At last season’s Class A state meet, Kvaal captured 31st place and Johnson was 35th, with Sather sandwiched in between in 33rd.

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Sather’s finest performance as a junior came at the meet before state. Winning the Section 3A championship, he set a personal record with a time of 16:36.1

“During sections, I just got lucky and had a good race and set a decent time” Sather remarked.

Sather aims to cap his cross country career with more solid showings. He aims to repeat as section champion and is looking for a top-10 finish at state.

Additionally, with the team capturing no worse than fourth at the state over that the past three seasons, he hopes LQPV/D-B can better or at least match that result.

As of now, both meets are up in the air as neither has been scheduled.

“I’m kind of preparing myself that if it doesn’t happen, I won’t be devastated,” Sather said. “I’m just trying to keep up my times and keep up my hard workouts and miles all around so that if the time does come, I don’t want to be behind. I’m just going to see how the season plays out.”

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