If you spend any time on the south side of Sioux Falls there is a very good chance you’ve spotted the Chargers out for a run. This amazing program continues to grow under the guidance of Coach Luke VanderLeest. We caught up with Coach to discuss the past year and to get a preview of what is coming up this season for the Sioux Falls Christian Chargers.
Please give our readers a little historical perspective on your program. How has your team changed from last spring and fall to now?
On the guys side, the last 4 seasons have included 1 state title and finishing as the runner up to St. Thomas Moore 3 times. We were looking forward to another battle with STM last season, but obviously didn’t get that chance due to COVID. Our girls finished in the top 10 at the state meet last time we competed, and were poised to be very, very competitive last year. After graduating a number of talented seniors, we’re probably like every other team - we have a lot of questions and a lot of anticipation heading into the upcoming track season.
On the bright side, one of the great things about being in a small school like SFC is the fact that most of our kids are multi-sport athletes. And so even though our kids were underclassmen (or even middle schoolers) the last time they competed on a track, they’ve all been competing at a high level in other sports (our track kids have contributed to 6 state title in other sports in the past year and a half) and I think that helps them keep a competitive edge.
What has the last year been like from a coaching perspective?
The past year has been a challenge, as a counselor and Bible teacher, one of my favorite parts of coaching is the building of relationships and the lessons that are learned about faith and life through training and competing. With a forced quarantine, we had to be creative about how to continue cultivating the culture and discipline and relationships that are so crucial to our program.
I decided to create our own version of the CDC last spring - it stood for the Charger Discipline Challenge. Our athletes were given various workouts and challenges each week, and we created various competitions throughout the spring for kids to do remotely and we kept track of point totals to help motivate the kids. Not only did this help our kids physically, but they also had to complete challenges like scripture memorization, phone calls with assistant coaches and other non-track related things that would help them continue growing relationally and spiritually.
Tell me about who your team leaders are and some of the things they’ve done to traverse the student-athlete life during a global pandemic.
Along with the Charger Discipline Challenge that helped us through the track season, our distance kids really stepped up this past summer and did an amazing job of preparing for the fall cross country season by meeting for group runs and other outdoor, socially distanced activities.
What does your current and upcoming season look like?
With a decrease in covid-cases across the state, we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to kick off our season in early March and other than some of our standard safety protocols, we anticipate the season having a pretty “normal” feel to it.
After a successful cross country season (girls finished as state runner-up and the boys defended their state title with an undefeated season) we think we’re poised to have a great spring. Additionally, several of our track stars contributed to state titles in volleyball and boys soccer and there is a great deal of excitement about lacing up the spikes and getting back on the track!
Which athletes should we be on the lookout for in the upcoming season?
We have a lot of athletes that finished the 2019 season on a high note, and with nearly two more years of growth and maturity and success in other sports, we think we have a power-packed roster for the spring track season. On the girls side, we have several returning members of state medaling sprint relay teams such as Emma Korn, Ellie Lems, Brooklyn Pater, Moriah Harrison and we expect to see great things from sprinters Brenna Beyke, Sidney Oostra and Hailey Scholten. Our distance crew will be led by Taryn Whisler, Madison VanderHaar, Grace Lenning and Sydney Campbell plus a couple of 8th graders who made a splash in cross country - Margaret Vogel and Kiera Pinto.
On the boys side, we have a lot of experienced athletes. In fact, we have a whole host of guys who medaled and won state titles in various events back in 2019 when they were in 8th, 9th and 10th grade! We return almost everyone from our 2019 state championship 4x400 (Chris Oostra, Eli Gillet, Tyler Prins & Noah VanDonkersgoed) and championship 4x100 (Isaiah Harrison, Eli Gillet, Carter VanDonge) most of these guys were also part of our 2019 runner up 4x200 and medley teams. We’re also really excited about sprinters Isaiah Young, Mason Adams and one of the top hurdlers in the state - Mitchell Walker.
Our two time defending state cross country champions should be able to score points in the distance events. We will be led by All-State runners Isaac Davelaar, Isaac Engbers, Derrek VanderLeest and Patrick Vogel. Contributions are also expected from state XC medalists Daniel Colby, Nathan Koole, Maksim Strizheus along with up and coming sophomores Connor Pruis and Carson Engbers.
We haven’t been strong in the field events that past few years, but after high jumping 6-05 as a sophomore and pleasing crowds with monster dunks this basketball season, we’re excited for Noah VanDonkersgoed’s contribution in the high jump. And based on how they finished their rookie seasons in 2019, we should see some great things from long jumpers Eli Gillet and Carter VanDonge as well as throwers Jayden Witte and Wyatt Markie.
Tell us the best way to follow Sioux Falls Christian High School Track and Cross Country
The best way to follow SFC is on twitter @sfc_xc and meet results will all be posted to Athletic.net
In your opinion how can the 605 Community support high school athletics?
I love the opportunities provided for our community through local road races, trail races and organized group runs. As a team, we’ve always enjoyed helping with the SF Marathon and love the quality gear and knowledgeable staff that assists our kids at 605 Running Company.
Finally, leave us with a positive message for all runners heading into 2021
I always tell my athletes that there are a LOT of challenges in life that are out of their control. (Track is notorious for this - snow, wind, rain, heat, spring break, prom, etc. Not to mention last season’s Covid quarantine!) But you get to control how you’re going to respond and react to these challenges - so let’s choose to make the most of each and every situation!
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