Down the country back roads neighboring Trinity Lutheran High School, A.J. Goecker paces behind coach Chris Crenshaw’s bicycle.
It’s another seven-mile run practice, and Crenshaw has configured his watch to ensure that Goecker’s time matches up to timed expectations.
Without Crenshaw, Goecker wouldn’t have anyone to push him to drop time.
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This fall, Goecker is the lone runner in the Cougars’ cross-country program.
The sophomore, a dual-sport athlete who also plays soccer, has represented the Cougars in 10 invitationals in 2016.
“It has been kind of tough,” Goecker said of running alone. “It’s kind of difficult getting motivated sometimes, but you just need to focus on keeping a steady pace and pushing on.”
Crenshaw said he meets Goecker and his parents at the races instead of driving a team bus.
While Goecker is the only one dawning a navy blue Trinity uniform at races, he’s making sure that the school gets recognized.
In the first race of the season, Goecker beat his own school record of 17:22 by posting 17:15 at Bedford North Lawrence.
Goecker finished in the top five in nine invitationals, including six runs in the top-three with two individual wins.
The individual victories came at Jac-Cen-Del on Aug. 25 and New Washington on Sept. 27.
Between those top overall finishes, Goecker decimated his previous record.
At the Big Blue Invitational hosted by Jennings County at Muscatatuck County Park course, Goecker posted a 16:30.
“I’ve dropped more time than I thought I would have this year,” Goecker admitted. “I hope to keep improving. It’s different not being able to run with people, but it’s still going well.”
Goecker typically practices with the soccer team before meeting with Crenshaw later in the evening.
“We take it day-by-day and see how he feels,” Crenshaw said. “We base the workout off that. We’re trying to build confidence, and he’s had some good races this year. He has knocked time off almost every meet. It’s some good time, too, almost 20 to 30 seconds.”
“There’s a couple of advantages with it just being A.J. for practices. We definitely have a flexible schedule, which is good because he has to arrange soccer practices as well — we can adjust the practice as needed.”
The lack in numbers has allowed Crenshaw to cater to Goecker’s needs and allowed the two to change running locations.
“We stay here on campus some, but since it’s just he and I we have gotten on some of the back roads,” Crenshaw said. “That lets us get on some hills so we’re not running on a flat course (at Trinity). We do a combination of things.”
Last year, Goecker just missed making it to the semistate race by finishing two spots out from the individual cut.
“I’m feeling pretty good, I would really like to make it to semistate,” Goecker said. “Hopefully — I don’t want to call it a miracle — I can make a run towards state.”
While he may run alone, Goecker has a team of supporters behind him.
“Some of my classmates will still congratulate me and support me at school,” he said. “Even if they weren’t at the meet, they’ve heard. It’s nice to be supported.”
On Saturday, Goecker ran in the cross-country sectional at Brown County in the morning before competing in the Jac-Cen-Del soccer sectional championship.
The Cougars’ soccer team fell, but Goecker finished 15th in 17:09 to qualify for this week’s regional.
Trinity Lutheran sophomore A.J. Goecker hasn’t placed outside the top 7 in a race this season.
Aug. 22: at Bedford North Lawrence Invitational, 3rd, 17:15
Aug. 25: at Jac-Cen-Del, 1st, 18:26
Aug. 27: at Salem Invitational, 4th, 17:59
Sept. 6: at Scottsburg Invitational, 4th, 18:40
Sept. 10: at Brown County Classic, 5th, 17:48
Sept. 13: at Big Blue Invitational, 3rd, 16:30 (school record)
Sept. 20: at Dragon Invitational (Silver Creek), 7th, 17:21
Sept. 22: at Paoli Invitational, 2nd, 17:49
Sept. 27: at New Washington Invitational, 1st, 17:05
Sept. 29: at Greensburg Invitational, 3rd, 17:22
Oct. 8: at Sectional (Brown County), 15th, 17:09