‘I thought my time was pretty impressive because the course was pretty hilly’
(Nov. 19, 2021) Stephen Decatur senior Tristan Dutton wrapped up his four-year cross country career competing in the MPSSAA 3A state championship meet last Saturday at Hereford High School in Parkton.
Dutton crossed the finish line in 71st place overall out of 175 runners, with a time of 18:17.9.
“I wanted to do better placement wise, but overall I did really well. I thought my time was pretty impressive because the course was pretty hilly,” he said. “Everyone I talked to, all the runners, were friendly, and the competition was really fast. It was just a cool experience overall.”
Coach Brenda Hommel was pleased with his performance.
“I was happy with how he raced, simply because I would rather him go out hard and really try to earn that top 25 [spot] and then not be able to rather than to go out at a comfortable pace …” she said. “A few things were working against him [but] he ran hard and that’s all you can ask for.”
Dutton qualified for the state meet by placing sixth overall during the 3A South Region championship on Nov. 4, at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena. He crossed the finish line in 16:48.40, his fastest 5K time of the season, by 20 seconds.
“I thought my whole season was excellent,” he said. “I broke a school record [18:20 for the Decatur 5K course], placed third in the Bayside [Conference meet], and got sixth in the region.”
Dutton was pleased with his four-year cross country career.
“When I was a freshman, my 5K time was like 21 minutes, and now I’m running a 16:48 as my fastest 5K. I think I definitely improved,” he said. “Running for Decatur has just been awesome. My coaches have been great, especially Mrs. Hommel and Mr. [Jody] Stigler who’s now at Pocomoke. They’ve helped me a lot along the way.”
Dutton is now participating in indoor track and will kick off his fourth outdoor track season in March.
Hommel thought the cross country season went well overall. Prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year, she had worked with the cross country program for seven seasons and indoor and outdoor track for seven and six seasons, respectively.
This year she took over the running programs from Stigler, who transferred to Pocomoke Middle School to become an extended day administrator, assistant principal.
The Decatur boys’ cross country team finished in third and the girls’ squad placed fourth during the Bayside Conference championship. Both teams places seventh during the regional meet.
“I was just thrilled with how both teams performed. We have such a young team, with only four veteran runners on both teams – four males four females – everyone else was brand new to cross county,” Hommel said. “The fact that our boys’ team competed as well as they did and placed as well as they did – I think they always came in top three … that was great especially with as many young boys and we had.
“Our girls’ team winning every conference meet was just remarkable, given we had so many injuries from our veteran runners,” she continued. “We really relied on our brand new runners. I was just so impressed with how well they did.”
The program will only graduate four runners, so Hommel thinks the teams will be strong next year with a core group slated to return.
“I think next year will be a really good year for us. I’m very exciting with the core group returning,” she said. “Freshman runner Amber Marshall by the end of the season she is ranked the No. 2 freshman of all time for Decatur (5K time 21:23). She outperformed all freshmen in history from Decatur other than one – Lindsay Chetelat (2005, 20:01).”
Hommel said Marshall is a rising star and she will look to her to lead the group next season.
“We made a runner out go her … I don’t think she still realizes what her potential is,” Hommel said. “We definitely have some growth here and so she’s going to be a strong leader and we’re excited to see what she does over the next four years.”
Marshall enjoyed her first competitive running season.
“It was exciting. I didn’t know I could run this fast,” she said.
Marshall is also competing in indoor track this winter and plans to participate in outdoor track in the spring.
Hommel enjoyed her first season as head coach and is looking forward to the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
“Running is definitely my passion. I get up at 4:30 every morning and run with my dog. It’s something I have found in my own experience running has helped my stay somewhat balanced, giving me some time to focus on myself and keep my stress levels low,” she said. “Right now, mental health issues in school I think just offering students an opportunity to run – the esteem-building experience and just showing kids that if you align your choices with your goals you can pretty much achieve almost anything you want to achieve.”
With running, progress is measured by an increase or decrease in time. While athletes are running as individuals, cross country is also a team sport.
“They learned running cross country is a team sport. They relied on each other and [saw how] every single point counted,” she said. “And a lot of times, kids that come out for cross country are not super athletic and we make them. It’s just such a great experience for the kids, and they’re probably the nicest group of athletes.
“One thing I always tell the kids, even if you choose not to do indoor or outdoor track, even if you choose not to ever do the [cross country] team again, just look at what you accomplished, you chose to run and you all did it,” she added. “They were all able to grow and improve their times. One thing about running, it’s alway there for them. They don’t have to be on a team to run. They can just go out and run and enjoy it. Hopefully we gave them that outlet and just another door opened in terms of experience they can rely on, whether it be for mental health, physical health, or social, running fits a need for a lot of kids.”