Seniors settle into last season of cross country


Holly Bill

Seniors Alex Neufeld, Michael Hulleman and Elias Wickline run as a pack during the first mile.


For four Harrisonburg runners, this cross country season is going to be their last. Seniors Tucker McGrath, Michael Hulleman, Elias Wickline and Alex Neufeld all raced the varsity race as part of the top ten runners at Harrisonburg High School.

“I feel sad that this is my last year, but it’s fun to be the senior. Some of the seniors when I was a freshman didn’t really hang out a lot with [us], and I told myself I would when I was a senior. Now I am,” Wickline said.

McGrath is one of the captains on the team, a role he also played last year. He has run cross country for all four of his years at HHS.

“I’m just trying to be the best version of me, [be] nice to everybody [and] get people involved because it’s really hard to break into the social group and get the freshmen active and comfortable. Then from there, you just be a person,” McGrath said.

Even the seniors who aren’t captains still play a role on the team because of their years of experience.

“I’d say that I’m kind of like a mentor/comic relief guy. I’m not going to be the fastest on the team this year, but I feel like my job is to make sure that everyone on the team feels included in our culture and everyone is having a good time, even if they’re not the fastest,” Hulleman said.  

The regular cross country season can last until November, if the team qualifies for the regional and state meets, which are both goals for the team. During those months of practices and meets, lots of time is spent as a team, making memories.

“I will remember my first high school meet where I ran over 30 minutes, and the first meet I kept up with varsity. 90 percent of cross country is practices though, so I will also remember the seniors [during] my sophomore and junior years who showed me their favorite routes and passed on their traditions,” Neufeld said.

“There’s always been a whole culture we’ve created around our team, and it’s pretty sweet,” Wickline said.

Along with improving their fitness and times, the seniors also learned many lessons while running cross country at the high school.

“I learned how to push my body to its limits and make physical progress. I also learned that suffering is better with teammates,” Wickline said. “I’ve grown by being able to discipline myself. In a way, it’s helped me to stop being a huge procrastinator.”

“You learn a lot about yourself, it comes with running, because you’re alone and you have a lot of time to think, and then you get super close to people,” McGrath said. “So, the value of people and just learning about me and who I am as a person.”

“I think that this is a good year to be a senior in cross country because we’re doing better than last year, and the year after I leave has a lot of potential,” Neufeld said.

Compared to the same meet last year, the team is doing better, with the average time of the top five runners a whole minute faster, at 17:57.

“It’s kind of sad, you know, because I’m never going to run cross country again, which is a little heartfelt,” Hulleman said. “I’ve just learned that sometimes you’re going to go through an experience and it’s going to feel very painful and you’re not going to want to finish it, but you’re going to have to finish it, and then it will be really rewarding when you do.”

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