Seniors Josh Long and Quintin Talbott know they may be running their final cross country races for Lafayette Jeff on Saturday, but the duo has another goal besides taking the Bronchos to the state finals.
“Coach (Dave) Howell tells us that this team is one of the best teams he’s ever coached, and we want to make sure it is the best team he’s ever coached,” Talbott said. “We want to go to state, but even if we don’t, we still can be the best.”
Long believes the New Prairie Semistate will be the best race he and the Bronchos will run this season.
“We’re going to run it like it’s the last race we’ll ever run in our entire lives,” said Long, whose mother and aunt helped Lafayette Jeff finish sixth in the state in 1991. “I’m hoping to run in college, but it could be my last high school meet. No matter what my time is this week, it will be my best race.”
The Bronchos, West Lafayette, Frankfort, McCutcheon and Twin Lakes will be among 20 teams competing for six state berths. The level of competition will be higher, and so will the toughness of the course.
Long, a veteran of the New Prairie course, is mentally preparing himself for the physical challenge.
“It’s just a different course,” he said. “There’s no course that we run in the sand. The hill right afterward, your calves are already screaming at you.”
Other than a disappointing effort at the Hoosier Crossroads Conference meet, 11th-year head coach Howell says this team is different from his previous squads.
“We love all the kids we’ve ever had, but this team has been on a mission,” Howell said. “They’ve worked hard, they’ve wanted it and they’ve had pretty good attitudes and been focused on cross country. These are blue-collar kids. We don’t have a flashy front-runner. They go out and do the work.
“There’s times each week I think, ‘Man, I don’t think we can do much better,’ and they keep surprising me. They keep getting better. It all comes down to if they want to get something done, they’ll do it.”
The preparation for this season began the day after Lafayette Jeff’s track team finished second at the state finals.
“Coach Howell gave us log sheets, which we hadn’t done since my mom ran in the 1990s,” Long said. “He gave us a 100-day time frame and gave me 600 miles.”
Added Talbott: “It was absolutely crazy. We ran every day this summer.”
The payoff came at the Harrison Sectional, when the Bronchos finished second to sixth-ranked West Lafayette and easily outpointed county rival McCutcheon.
“They put a whipping on us last year, so we just wanted to show them you can’t hold that above us anymore,” Long said of the Mavericks. “Since we found out we can beat McCutcheon, it’s going to be a long shot, but West Side is our next (goal).”