Aug. 18, 2012
EAST LANSING, MICH. - The Michigan State Men’s Cross Country team welcomes eight additions to the program for the 2012 season.
The entire class hails from the state of Michigan and features four individual state champions and two sets of two runners from the same high school.
When it comes to building a program and bringing new talent to East Lansing, Head Coach Walt Drenth asks two important questions:
- Are they the mold of people we’ve had success with?
- Are they the type of people who fit our ideals in terms of being a Spartan?
Confident with his new team of athletes, Drenth is excited to integrate them into the program and have them run at their highest levels.
“This group of new recruits have the opportunity in time to be really, really good – but we don’t want to hurry that process. We want it to happen at the right pace,” said Drenth of his freshman team.
“That being said, we can’t wait to have this group of guys on campus. These guys are all in. Having success with other recruiting classes, you kind of know the mentality and formula that is necessary to be good and we feel that this group of freshman really embodies that.”
The Spartans received a commitment from quite possibly the best distance runner in the state in Lakeland’s Garret Zuk. Zuk was the Division 1 state champion in cross country and a state champion in the 3200 meters with a personal record time of 9:00.90.
“Garret is a big recruit for us,” said Drenth. “He’s a gifted student, a great kid and clearly a highly talented runner. He has a really mature understanding of what needs to be done rather than what he wants to do and he doesn’t confuse those two.”
“For example, he won a state championship in cross country, skipped indoor track, and put his entire focus into outdoor track. Every time he ran, he ran a little bit faster. He didn’t confuse himself into chasing any specific time or mark. He ran a few very high profile meets and beat some very good people a number of times.”
Drenth is also quick to point out Zuk’s personal commitment to being the best he possibly can be once he arrives for his first official cross country practice
“I really appreciate the fact that he didn’t complicate his summer with chasing marks on track, and instead, focused on preparing for the collegiate level of running. That sort of mentality really lends itself to making a fast rise, and Garret is someone who has the potential of competing right away for us.”
Drenth added, “If Garret is ready to be in our top 5, we’ll run him. But, if he’s not then we won’t.”
Michigan State also received a commitment from Nick Soter of Dearborn Divine Child High School. Soter is the Division 2 state champion in the mile (personal record of 4:19.7), 800 meters (1:58.07), and was second place at the Division 2 State Cross Country Meet.
Soter nearly achieved All-American status, missing the Foot Locker finals by one-tenth of a second.
“If you look at him (Soter), he’s young for a high school senior but you can see that there’s going to be a lot potential for physical maturity,” Drenth said.
“When you look at athletes that are at the top of the Big Ten, Nick certainly fits that physical profile. He’s a talent. We like his personality and he comes from a family that understands value and work ethic. If he wants to be good, he can be exceptional here at Michigan State."
One of the more dynamic prospects joining the team is Reed City’s Joe Oehrli. Oehrli won the Division 3 State Championship in the mile (personal record of 4:19.7) but has blistering speed in the 800 meters with a career best time of 1:54.7.
“He’s one of those guys who’s as maybe as intriguing as anyone we’ve recruited,” said Drenth of Oehrli.
“He’s got a lot of range. He’s had pretty good success in cross country but he was a state champion on the track. He’s an incredible half-miler (800 meters). This is somebody who could ultimately be a star at a lot of levels. He absolutely loves to run, he’s got siblings that go to Michigan State, and he’s a fantastic fit for our program.”
Drenth is hopeful that Oehrli’s versatility will bring a considerable amount of success to the cross country and track programs in future seasons.
“At the end of the day, the people who win Big Ten Championships in the distances are 1:50 half milers with good range - but some of them are limited in their range,” Drenth explained.
“This is not the case with Joe. He moves really well and there’s little doubt that he’s going to be exceptional in time.”
Two new recruits, Ryan Beyea and Alex VanCamp, both competed for Haslett High School under coach Nick Stanko, who recently competed in 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Beyea earned all state honors in cross country and had a personal-best 4:25.13 mile during the outdoor season.
“They come from a really good program at Haslett High School,” Drenth said. “They both demonstrated a decent amount of success and I think their potential is immense.”
“Ryan is a young maturing person and I think both of them have tremendous upside. Our challenge with Alex is keeping him healthy and with Ryan its being patient and convincing him to be patient because they both came from a high school program where the expectations were high.”
Drenth continues, “But that attracts us to many athletes too, are their programs successful? Nick Stanko has done a really good job with the Haslett’s boys running program and has brought them to a competitive level in the state ranks.”
Eric Fegan comes from a string of Pinckney High School runners who have made the commitment to MSU in recent years. Fegan will join another former Pinckney standout runner, Senior Brian Hankins, on this year’s roster and earned all state honors in the 1600 meters (4:21.13) and has run as fast as 1:56.5 in the 800 meters.
“Eric comes from that highly competitive Pinckney environment,” commented Drenth. “He loves to run. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but he’s certainly someone if his expectations stay up, and he’s able to train and take care of himself, he’s going to be very good.”
Michigan State welcomes two athletes from Calvin Christian High School in Justus Pinckney and Josh Kersjes. Pinckey was fifth in the Division 3 State Cross Country Meet and has a personal record of 1:54.9 in the 800 meters along with a 4:17 mile to his credit. Kersjes was fourth in the state at the Division 3 State Cross Country Meet and has a career-best mile of 4:28.5.
“Both of them (Josh and Justus) came from a very good and successful program at Calvin Christian,” Drenth said.
“With Josh, we really liked his energy and his talent and he understands the team concept here. Like most of the freshman in the class, it’s going to take some time to climb the ladder to be a Big Ten-level guy but we definitely see that in him.”
Drenth has high hopes for the future of Pinckney, who battled mono through his senior.
“He had a bad run of luck as a senior,” Drenth said. “He got mono in the middle of cross country and he was probably the favorite to win the Division 3 title. The fact that he was able to run in the top 10 in the state meet with mono is a testament to his commitment to the team and his toughness. We’re really excited to have him here. He’s much like Joe Oehrli in that a couple years from now he could be a Big Ten star.”