Cross Country closes the season in Hershey

Photo+courtesy+of+Coach+Kami+Reinhard.

Photo courtesy of Coach Kami Reinhard.

Maximus McGrath, Deputy Sports Editor

This previously ran in our 2021 December print edition.

Finishing the regular season 17- 0, the Emmaus girls cross country team ran the distance to ultimately compete at Hershey for PIAA State Championships, placing 14th.

Led by senior Isabela Lees, the girls team was largely composed of a young core of runners. Freshman Payton Campbell and sophomore Sophia Kovalski stepped into big places that were vacated by last year’s graduating seniors. Campbell provided fresh legs for the team while Kovalski returned still as an underclassman.

“I am so proud of everyone,” Kovalski said. “This was a rebuilding year because we lost a lot of good seniors last year, but we were still undefeated and got the District XI title.”

Hailey Reinhard continued to establish herself as a key piece to the girls cross country team in her junior year. H. Reinhard’s accolades stacked up for this season alone. Reinhard was not only the EPC and District XI champion, she also placed 20th individually at the PIAA State Championships. Reinhard’s expectations are being set higher each season as she steadily improves her times each year. Hill training was a large part of her regime this season that she gives credit to greatly dropping her times.

Reinhard did not get caught up in her own race. She is a key teammate that makes an active effort to project unity over the entire team. The successes of the team came before her own personal goals.

“[The season] was amazing,” Reinhard said. “I am so happy about how the team did, and a lot of freshmen and sophomores, underclassmen, filled in those roles of the seniors that graduated.”

Competing in the PIAA State Championships is nothing new to Reinhard. She has competed all three years she has been a part of Emmaus cross country. Her experience translated into a key role to the team as many of the younger runners had never been in such an environment.

Kovalski enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to run at the highest level in Pennsylvania high school competition. Following the end of the season, Kovalski already has her eyes set on even higher goals for next year.

“I hope we can keep the undefeated streak going, I’d like to get to states again and perform better than I did, but the goal is just to keep improving,” Kovalski said.

As head coach of Emmaus cross country, Kami Reinhard has been a part of the Emmaus cross country coaching staff since 2015, becoming head coach following the 2020 season. Reinhard also coaches the Emmaus track and field team in the spring season. Coach Reinhard was not surprised by the successes of the season, but rather how they were achieved.

“The beauty of the season was that each of the girls stepped up for each other so if someone didn’t have the best day someone else would show significant improvement, like beyond normal,” the coach said.

The close knit chemistry that the team was able to develop throughout the season was key to the success of the individuals and collectively as a team. Merging many new runners with other returning Hornets from last season proved to be a challenge early on, but the disconnects that were fixed only led to closer bonds throughout the whole team.

“They’re all extremely supportive of me,” Campbell said. “There are countless times when there was a workout when I don’t feel great, and Isabela is right there by my side still running it with me.  There will be days when I am overwhelmed with a lot of school stuff going on and Hailey is still there telling me ‘let’s go.’ The team was all really supportive and we all stuck together.”

Coach Reinhard was proud of the team effort shown from start to finish. Many unusual hurdles were placed in the way of the team, but they stayed on course for the entire season. As COVID-19 lingers, precautions still had to be taken during the season to ensure everyone was able to compete. Fortunately, Emmaus cross country survived the season with no contracted cases.

The Emmaus boys cross country team also had a historic season, finishing 16-1 as a team. The boys claimed the top of the podium for the first time ever in an invitational meet while also sending two individual runners to the PIAA State Championships.

Senior Ethan Strzempek was only a second year runner for the Emmaus cross country team. He joined during his junior year and assimilated quickly into cross country. Strzempek was accompanied by freshman Conor Fisher while both runners competed in Hershey.

The boys’ season was not all success; they faced many challenges through all stretches of the season. Strzempek endured his own struggles as the season prolonged both mentally and physically.

“The beginning of the season the boys team didn’t run as much as a unit as we should have, and a decent percentage of our injuries occurred later in the season,” Strzempek. “For me it was burn out, I expected more out of myself at states and it didn’t work out. I struggled with getting out fast enough in the first 400 meters.” 

Coach Reinhard embraced the challenges the season brought. Getting hung up on the negatives would only have held the program back, so Coach Reinhard did the opposite.

“In cross country, we prepare a lot for what we can control and not what we can’t,” Reinhard said. “Cross country is grueling, it is a grueling sport.  Hills, grass, concrete, it’s so dynamic. We focus on what we can control and run our own races.”

The boys program began to find their stride during the 2021 season and they look to keep up the pace. Strzempek will graduate at the end of this school year, leaving with nothing but pride.

“I had the honor of leading one of the best Emmaus cross country boys teams,” Strzempek said.