Steward of the Course

Some of Rick Weinheimer’s favorite moments as Columbus North cross-country coach happen when a runner gets better and better every year and then has what he calls a “Senior Season.”

That’s happened with several Bull Dog runners in Weinheimer’s nearly three decades at the helm. But not many of those have made as big a progression in their four years as Chandler Steward.

As a freshman, Steward’s best time for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) was 19 minutes, 22 seconds. He improved to 18:02 as a sophomore and 16:54 last season.

In the Oct. 17 Brown County Regional, Steward busted a 16:14, good enough for a fifth-place overall finish. He has been North’s No. 3 runner each of the past two weeks.

“I thought I’d be around 16 or 17 by my senior year, but never in the top three,” Steward said.

Until this season, Steward’s only exposure to varsity competition has come when the Bull Dogs were in a meet where more than the usual seven runners were allowed to compete.

“You’re talking about getting better without having a lot of experience, and that’s not bothered him,” Weinheimer said. “He’s just run his best.”

Steward attributed his development to hard work and trusting his coaches. He also picked up speed as an 800-meter runner during track this spring, when he ran on the regional-qualifying 4×800 relay team.

“That helped me push myself to where I am now,” Steward said. “The speed workouts we did helped improve my times in track, and now, I can finish harder during the races for the 5K.”

A few colleges have been in contact with Steward, who wants to run at the next level. He isn’t sure what college he’ll attend, but he wants to be a physical therapist.

Saturday afternoon, Steward will help lead fifth-ranked North into the state finals at Terre Haute’s LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. He is hoping to break 16 minutes and help the Bull Dogs to a top-five team finish, which would put them on the awards podium and earn them medals.

“It’s a little bit different improving in the 800 vs. 5K,” Weinheimer said. “So I think we had our fingers crossed that he could make this improvement. He saved his best for last and really made a significant difference on our team. We’ve been thrilled for him.”

If you go

What: Boys and Girls Cross Country State Finals

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. (boys) and 1:45 p.m. (girls)

Where: LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, 599 S. Tabortown Rd., Terre Haute

Admission: $8

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.