Boys Cross Country | semistate preview

Rhodes is LaCrosse's first semistate qualifier in cross country

2013-10-25T17:00:00Z 2013-10-25T21:50:14Z Rhodes is LaCrosse's first semistate qualifier in cross countryJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
October 25, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Indiana high schools don't come much littler than LaCrosse, whose enrollment barely exceeds 100.

The tiny dot on the map gained notice last Saturday when Nate Rhodes became the first Tiger to qualify for semistate.

"It means a lot that I can put my name in the records for LaCrosse," Rhodes said. "Most of the people are from big schools. I'm from (one of) the smallest high school(s) in Indiana."

The new format, which advances the top 10 runners not on qualifying teams, opened the door for Rhodes, who made it to the New Prairie Regional all four years. A disappointing 42nd-place finish last fall was all the motivation he needed to seize the opportunity.

"Last year, I was thinking, 'Oh yeah, I can get out,' and I ended up running terrible," Rhodes said. "I had the determination, the mental side, being prepared, doing whatever it takes to get out."

As it turned out, Rhodes wasn't far off the old top 15 cutoff, taking 21st, seventh among individual qualifiers.

"If his time was where it should be, we knew he'd be right in that mix," coach Brian McMahan said. "He was really focused in."

The difference wasn't a better beginning or end. It was a stronger middle, the result of Rhodes' productivity in the offseason, when he gradually built mileage rather than pounding himself from the start of the summer.

"I put in so many miles, I had the extra endurance," he said. "When I hit the 3K, I'm able to throw in a surge. Ryan (Witt) helped me the last few weeks. Without (Bobby Claypool and Cody Mathis), I wouldn't be the runner I am. I look up to them for motivation, seeing the hard work they put in. People I don't even know walk up to me and say, 'Great job.' It compels me to want to do better."

For Rhodes, the semistate berth is the pinnacle of a career in which he's lead LaCrosse to three regionals. His freshman year, the Tigers could barely post a team score.

"We actually have kids to run the JV race at conference," Rhodes said. "People are fighting for varsity spots. We've got a lot of young kids on the team and I want them to strive to beat me."

McMahan built the program around his senior class and hopes the interest will carry over.

"From day one, Nate was trying to get other kids to join," he said. "Some saw what he did and wanted to join the ride. He'll be tough to replace, but I told our principal, cross country is one sport we can be competitive in, year in, year out, if we get them going at an early level. There's an eighth-grader coming in who idolizes Nate."

When Rhodes first began running, his superior talent was his primary incentive. It wasn't until eighth grade that he began to develop a passion for it.

"I realized, if I'm able to beat some (high school kids) now, what can happen if I just start training?" he said. "It just clicked. (Running is) something you're striving to better yourself at, not just to beat people."

The Porter County Conference mental attitude award winner, Rhodes hopes to realize a dream of running in college, where he plans to study criminal justice.

"I think running's a great foundation for the field," he said. "Determination, the will to succeed, to help others, it's the basis for it."

Today's New Prairie Semistate will provide him one more chance to make a name for himself and his school.

"Since the sectional, I knew any race could be my last," Rhodes said. "I need to be on top of my game. I just have to run my own race and make sure I leave everything out on the course."

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