With a little over one month remaining until the start of the 2023 postseason, the Oak Ridge boys and girls cross country teams are hoping for historic finishes once again.
Last fall, the Blue Jays boys squad took home its fifth state plaque in school history after taking third place in the Class 1 State Meet. As for Oak Ridge’s girls team, it placed the highest it ever has at state by taking seventh in Class 1.
Boding well for both Blue Jays teams is that they return multiple runners from last fall, which include their top runners from each team in senior Brock Hobeck and junior Kendall Marshall.
Hobeck, who most recently won last week’s Oak Ridge Invitational with a time of 18 minutes, 9.3 seconds, is the Blue Jays lone all-state medalist from 2022. Brock and fellow top-five runners from state like senior Ty Wilson, Karson Ward and junior Cohen Hahs are wanting to bring home Oak Ridge what would be the program’s fifth state plaque in six years.
“My seniors are my best friends — they put in the work with me,” Hobeck said. “We joke a lot, but they’ve done really well and have stuck with it. I’m proud of them. We do a lot of team bonding and make it fun, so it’s really nice coming out here with guys who also love running.”
Back in 2019 before these runners were in high school, the Blue Jays boys team won their first-ever state championship. Since then, Oak Ridge finished as the Class 1 runner-ups Hobeck, Wilson and Ward’s sophomore year and, of course, took third overall last season. Hobeck earned all-state as well, as a sophomore, by taking 25th.
“Once I saw a school like us could win a state championship, I really thought we could do this and be good,” Hobeck said. “With rankings this year, we seem to be the underdog, so that really motivates us.”
Other runners who have been stepping up for the Blue Jays this year have been underclassmen such as sophomores Jayden McAlister, Parker Schoen and freshman Isaac Moyer.
Throughout the first half of the season, Oak Ridge has been able to compete against Class 5 Jackson not once but twice already to better prepare them for what challenges lie ahead.
“I think I’m the best I ever have been in high school just because I’ve ran so much,” Hobeck said. “Competing against those bigger schools really helps me. Even though they’re Class 5 and what not, I try to do my best.
“Most people don’t enjoy running, but I think of it as fun and relaxing. I usually just try to keep having fun with it, so I don’t get burnt out on it. It really helps me cool down mentally.”
Moving on to the girls team, Marshall was the first Oak Ridge girls runner to place in the top 80 at state at 64th overall last fall. At the Oak Ridge Invitational, Kendall placed the highest for the Blue Jays and was the only one in the top 10 with an eighth-place finish at 24:39.46.
Returning from last year’s Class 1 seventh-place group with Marshall are senior Abby Volz, junior Hailey Ward and sophomore Colbi Mool. Blue Jays junior Addison Urhahn, who took 13th at the Oak Ridge invite, will also help the Blue Jays possibly place even higher in the postseason this fall.
“This season has been so great — my team and I have worked together so well,” Marshall said. “Every practice we push each other and it’s been amazing. We’ve done well at every meet.
“What we did last year was so great — we went into the season having no clue what we could do last year. Even after I graduate, I’m going to come back and support every girls team — and boys team — and try to be a motivation for them.”
Funny enough, last year was actually Marshall’s first season ever running cross country as she was talked into doing so by Volz. Kendall said she’s improved drastically in a few areas this fall, mainly her stamina and mental toughness.
“Abby was like, ‘Kendall, just run with me this year — like you could just do one practice,’” Marshall recalled. “So I went and fell in love with the team and stayed even though I haven’t been on this team long.
“Last year, I always went into a race thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to do so bad,’” Marshall laughed. “This year, I’ve just kind of looked up and thought to myself, ‘Hey, no matter what you do, you’ve done amazing.’”
Marshall said what she enjoys the most about cross country is “the pain.” Kendall explained that after each race, she recounts how much it hurt, but she also thinks races feel great as well.
“Individually, I’m hoping to make it in the 22’s that’s my goal,” Marshall said. “As a team, we’re hoping to place [in the top four] at state.”