Looking back at his high school cross country career at Althoff, Brad Pfeiffer descibes it as one in which he was a decent runner who needed someone to help push him to the ‘next’ level.
Now, in his first season as the head cross country coach at Belleville East, Pfeiffer is hoping to push the Lancers program to a higher level.
Always competitive in a Southwestern Conference dominated by perennial Class 3A State Cross Country Meet qualifiers Edwardsville and O’Fallon, Pfeiffer takes over the Lancers program from longtime coach Bryan Mitchell this season with a young squad which includes 40 athletes, many of which are new to the sport.
“We actually had more but this was the first time they have had double sessions each day during workouts and after a day or so we had some kids find out that this sport wasn’t for them. And that’s fine. We’ve got 40 kids in the program and that’s a good number,’’ Pfeiffer said. “I ran in high school and while I didn’t compete at the college level, I always wished I had somebody to help push me. I want to be that somebody for the runners on this team.’’
A breakthrough start for Wilson
Not since former University of Missouri runner Maria Effinger several years go have the Lancers had a runner the caliber of junior Seleiya Wilson who is quickly become one of the most improved runners in southern Illinois this season.
Already with a pair of top 10 finishes to her credit heading into the Belleville West Invitational last week, Wilson took that next step as she won the three mile race and led the Lancers to a top four finish.
“Seleiya is running great. She is our top runner on the girls team, but she’s basically working out with the varsity boys team every day and that level of competition is pushing to her to another level,’’ Pfeiffer said. “She’s run the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in track and field in the past, but this year we started working with her in the 800 meters and I think that has really helped her speed
“Plus, she ran with the Dashers Track Club this summer and got a chance to go to the (AAU) National and see another level. There is no doubt in my mind that she can qualify for the state meet this season. She just keeps on getting better and better.”
Two longtime standouts to the Lancers long distance running program — seniors Sydney Hartung and Megan Korte — are also at the top of the Lancers lineup behind Wilson, while sophomore Kira Nussbaum and talented freshman Lauren Smith also could make an impact this season.
Howell leads a young boys squad
On the boys side, Pfeiffer is hoping that junior Jackson (Jake) Howell will soone have his breakthrough race. One of several young and talented male runners on the East roster, Howell placed 12th on the flat course at the Granite City Invitational two weeks ago, then followed with a top five effort at Belleville West last weekend.
“Jake has a lot of ability. He just needs to believe in himself a little more,” Pfeiffer said. “Brian Gichuru of Belleville West has always been someone that Jake has been competing against and last week I thought he ran a little timid for part of the race.
“About halfway through I told Jake that he had run with Brian before and that he can do it again. The last mile he did that. He has already broken 17 minutes this season and I look for him to run faster times as the season goes on.’’
Senior Dillon Vaupel has also broken 17 minutes and is competing with two elite freshmen in Zach Panek and Jack Gray for a top five spot. Panek won the O’Fallon Freshman Futures Race earlier this season.
Sophomores Austin Radden and Quinten Titchenal are also runners to watch this season at Belleville East.