Webster University senior Ethan Jeffries’ plan wasn’t always to run cross-country.
“I played basketball my whole life, and eventually I stopped growing,” Jeffries said. “So, that wasn’t the sport for me. So, I did track in middle school, and I was really bad.”
In his junior year at Delavan High School in Delavan, Ill., Jeffries joined the cross-country team for his only season with the squad. He took a four-year hiatus from competitive cross-country running before he joined the Gorloks this year as a senior.
For the first four races of the men’s cross-country season, Jeffries posted the best times on the men’s team. His top mark in an 8K race this season was in the Brissman-Lundeen Invitational in Rock Island, Ill., on Sept. 21. There, Jeffries ran the course in 27 minutes, 13 seconds.
Most recently, he tied that time and placed third for the Gorloks in the Jackling Jocks Invitational in Rolla, Mo., on Oct. 6 with a mark of 27:13.
Coach Kelly Parsley said he is a little surprised with the numbers Jeffries has put up in his first year running for Webster.
“I kind of figured with (senior) Dan (Henkey) running for the last couple of years, that Dan would have the edge over Ethan, but I think Ethan is really competitive and just likes to be No. 1 on the team,” Parsley said. “It’s been fun for both of them to see each of them improve.”
Jeffries decided to join the cross-country team this year after assistant cross-country coach Heather Kelley contacted Jeffries to gauge his interest in becoming a member of the team. Kelley gave Jeffries the names of some of the men’s team members, and he eventually met Henkey.
“Eventually, me and Dan got each other’s numbers and started running together,” Jeffries said. “As we were running, we started talking and realized that we had so many things in common. Since then, we started hanging out, and it’s great.”
Parsley said Jeffries improved the morale of the team and seemed to make an impact before he ran his first race.
“Dan is a great captain, but Ethan is almost like his sidekick,” Parsley said. “(Jeffries has) helped us develop as a team. Having the edition of Ethan, with the strong guys we had returning from last year, has really helped with team camaraderie. Everybody, initially maybe because he’s a senior, had a level of respect for him even before he joined the team.”
Jeffries said Parsley has helped him during his time on the team.
“Coach is great,” Jeffries said. “Honestly, the whole team is great — me, Dan (Henkey), Dave (Koppelmann) and Tony (Morales); the seniors — we really try to motivate each other. Dave’s had his knee problem, so we try to help him get over that. Coach is great, though, for sure. This summer, I got a call from him, and he heard that I was
interested, and he totally was about
having me on the team.”
Jeffries’ eagerness to join a team again stood out to Parsley in the preseason.
“I was initially excited because he was pretty excited about being on a team again,” Parsley said. “(I thought) this guy could be pretty good … He was pretty excited about training, and I’m really all about (the) team and (Jeffries) really embraced that. His enthusiasm for wanting to be on a team and the amount of training he did this summer really made me excited for him joining us.”
Jeffries said regaining the rhythm of competitive racing has been the most difficult task for him this season.
“Remembering how to race, I guess, is different,” Jeffries said. “I did start running for leisure last September because I missed it — the running aspect. I missed competing, but just remembering actually how to run in a race is difficult.”
With the times Jeffries has posted thus far, it’s a possibility he may have remembered how to race. However, when he looks at his times, he shares his coach’s sentiment of surprise.
“Honestly, I never expected it to happen,” Jeffries said. “At the end of every race, you hear other guys around you who are panting, and I always expect it to be Jason or Dan to pass me. Really, not that I expect to lose, but I never really go in thinking I’ll be No. 1. Dan’s just as fast as me; (sophomore) Jason’s (Hickson) just as fast. It’s just we got to get in racing mode.”
As excited as he was to become a Gorlok athlete this season, one aspect Jeffries wishes he would have done is continue running after his junior year of high school.
“I’d probably be a lot better,” Jeffries said. “The lifestyle you get when you’re running and the people you hang out with are very much different than other aspects. It’s so positive. Groups of runners anywhere are all positive guys and girls. It’s just nice to be in that environment.”
As the second half of the cross-country season continues, Jeffries has goals for himself and hopes his teammates can improve with him.
“If Dan stays healthy, I think that Dan, Jason and I can all break 27 (minutes in an 8K race), which would be a school record,” Jeffries said. “That would be better than Dan’s previous and mine currently, and I think all three of us can do that. It could go any way. Jason could have the record, I could, or Dan could. I know Dave and Tony can definitely get their times down, and they will. I think we’ve got a good shot at doing really well.”