AKRON — A breakthrough moment at the 2018 Culver Academies Cross Country Regional provided then-Tippecanoe Valley sophomore Matthew Howes and the rest of Vikings XC with a season highlight. But Howe feels it also turned up the pressure heading into his junior season, too.
Howes’ 17:53.3 stop at the Culver regional was a full 14 seconds better than the time he turned in on the same course during the sectional round of the tournament a week prior. It earned him 18th place among the field and one of the 10 berths at the New Prairie Semi-state reserved for individuals from non-advancing teams. He went on to drop his time once more at the challenging course in New Carlisle, clocking a 17:42.5 and finishing up his sophomore season in 94th place.
It was a great finish, but for the competitive Howes, it also means the expectations are high going into the 2019 season.
“When I made it through regionals, it just kind of hit me like ‘Wow”. It was just a wow moment for me. It was real nice,” he recalled. But he added: “I kind of want to get noticed. It’s what I want to happen, and I’m just afraid that that may not happen.”
Valley coach Mike Inglehearn has seen his top runner’s drive through the offseason. The semi-state berth gave Howes a glimpse of what he was capable of, and he hopes to exceed the mark he set for himself last fall.
“Going into semi state, I told him this is going to be a tough race. Don’t expect any more than what you’re capable of running,” Ingelheard said. “The first mile of this race is going to be fast. We got to looking, and he was exactly a minute off of making it to state. So he’s got that in his head and he’s gearing. He’s put some miles in this summer and in the weight room quite a bit. He’s definitely a true leader.”
And Inglehearn is relying on that leadership as the Vikings get their season underway.
The team’s lone senior, Mitchell Smith, will likely slot in at number two behind Howes, while Chase Miller and Jace Holloway challenge each other for the third and fourth spots in the Viking boys’ lineup. After that, Logan Hummitch and Evan Myers will race for the fifth and sixth spots. They’ve pushed each other through the preseason, and Inglehearn hopes to see them continue that through the fall. The goal he’s set for them at practice is to stay with the team’s pace setter as long as possible.
“What I’m hoping is those five push each other. Preferably my fifth and sixth guy push three and four up into the two spot. Because the closer we stay together, the better score we’re going to have at the end of the day,” Inglehearn explained. “I tell the kids in practice your goal is to run with Matthew as long as you possibly can. Don’t worry about finishing with him, but that’ll close the gap at the end of the season when we’ll really need it.”
While Howes may be putting extra pressure on himself, he’s comfortable in the leadership role. And Inglehearn is more than comfortable with having him there.
“I just want to be a good role model for the school, good role model for the team and everybody out there,” Howes said.
“Outgoing, pushes himself no matter what sport he’s doing,” described Inglehearn of Howes. “He’s a team sport kid — whether it’s basketball or cross country, he wants his teammates to do as well as he does, and he finds a way to push them. He’s very confident in what he does when it comes to sports.”