Runner works to fill big shoes

Rachael Keating/Clinton HeraldNortheast’s Andrew Hilgendorf runs at Grace Lutheran Camp in DeWitt on Oct. 4 for the last regular season meet of the year. Hilgendorf will run at the district meet this Thursday in Monticello.

The Northeast Rebels lost a lot when it comes to cross country last season.

The boys were just three points away from qualifying as a team for the state meet, and they were led by Wyatt Schmidt, who ended up placing 12th overall in Class 2A.

Schmidt did leave behind Andrew Hilgendorf, who has been the top runner for the Rebels all season long. Even Hilgendorf knows, however, those are some pretty big shoes.

“He was above me most of the races between 10-15 seconds,” Hilgendorf said. “When you lose that, you’re losing a big chunk of the team.”

Add in the fact that the Rebels switch head coaches and it’s been a whole new ballgame for the junior distance runner.

“It’s a big change from last year,” Hilgendorf said. “We switched coaches after our old coach retired from cross country. Now, we have more of an endurance team instead of a speed team like last year. Our old workouts are all different.”

When Hilgendorf started the season late summer, he wasn’t sure how that would pan out. However, he trusted the process and it paid off.

“For me at least, I thought the new workouts were hurting my times,” Hilgendorf said. “Then I started to decrease my times as the season got going. It’s a better strategy because last year my times were jumping around all the time.”

Even though he’s just a junior, being the fastest runner in a sport like cross country brings a natural leadership role. Afterall, in practice he’s the one people are trying to catch.

“I’ve just tried to keep the team going,” Hilgendorf said. “For the most part, we have really good senior leadership. I just try to improve the runners, but they try to keep them going.”

Now, being the best Rebel won’t be good enough. He’s trying to run his best times as districts approach quickly.

“My goal is to get to state. At districts, I’m shooting for top five again, like last year,” Hilgendorf said.

Hilgendorf joined teammate Schmidt at the state meet in Fort Dodge, finishing in the top 50 in the field. That, plus a successful track season, are motivation to make another return trip.

“It was just a fun experience,” Hilgendorf said. “It was just a really exciting experience for me, then to top it off I went to state in track season.”

Hilgendorf, and the rest of the Rebels, will know their fate after Thursday’s meet in Monticello.