By Michael DeJohn, sports editor
Welcome to Cross Country. The gun fires. You sprint off the start line and start breathing heavily. You have just started the PIAA State Championship cross country race. You try to settle into a groove for breathing. You try to maintain a safe spot in front of the other runners. Your brain is telling you to stop running and give up. You want to quit. But you don’t. You are a cross country runner.
Two-time state medalist Sam Hetrick knows all about the struggles of racing. After a short but successful 2020 season, Hetrick placed 25th with a time of 17:57 in the PIAA Class A Race in Hershey on Saturday, Nov. 7. Hetrick ran ten races during the regular season and finished with a record of 9-1. Hetrick was the only runner from Saegertown to make it to the state final this year. “I feel amazing,” Hetrick said. “I definitely worked my butt off all season, and I’m happy I medaled.”
Coach Bill Hetrick, Sam’s father, noted the challenges of the 2020 season. “This season was strange because of so much racing; additionally, the lack of Saturday races really made the postseason unique,” Coach Hetrick said. “Because we didn’t have any Saturday races, our first large race was the District Championship. As a coach, you never want to have so much riding on one race.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season’s racing format was altered. Runners ran Tuesdays and Thursdays in dual meets. In previous seasons they would have tri-meets on Tuesdays and invitationals on Saturdays.
Prior to the D10 final, Hetrick had a slightly pulled hamstring and calf muscle, due to over-racing. “Sam’s injury forced us to rest him more than we normally would heading into the district championship,” Coach Hetrick said. “The result of that was that we hoped that he would be able to qualify for states. We weren’t so sure because of this injury.”
At districts, Hetrick finished fifth to earn the trip to states. The only other Crawford County runner to qualify in Class A boys was Chase Miller from Cochranton. During the race at Hershey, Hetrick struggled. “I couldn’t breathe, so I was trying not to pass out,” Hetrick said. “I was tired, exhausted, but most importantly I just wanted to medal; get top 25.” He accomplished that goal, and has his eye on another. “It [winning a medal] definitely feels good,” Hetrick said. “it was my goal the whole season. I want to be a four-year state medalist. I’m glad I have two so far.” Last year at states, Hetrick placed 22nd.
Coach Hetrick was impressed with Sam’s efforts. “States was very strange because there were four different races to determine the top twenty-five times,” Coach Hetrick said. “For Sam to medal under those conditions was a real testament to his fortitude as a runner and his focus on that particular day. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Journalism Adviser, Saegertown Jr. Sr. High School