Racing with right balance
Tanner Bernhardt does not need to run cross county. A standout at wide receiver in football, shooting guard in basketball and sprinter in track, the Rugby High School senior has plenty to focus on throughout the school year.
But cross country was the first sport he immediately excelled in at the scholastic level, earning an all-state honor as a freshman. At that time, he didn’t greatly figure into week-to-week football planning. Now he’s a dangerous weapon through the air or on the ground.
Cross county “keeps me in condition, for one thing,” Bernhardt said, “and I’ve always done cross county since I was young it’s something that stuck with me my whole life.”
Even after breaking his tibia and missing most of the football and cross country seasons in 2013, Bernhardt didn’t think twice about shifting his focus solely to football. The contact sport leaves him sore after Friday games, which often precede 5K races on Saturdays, but he runs through the pain. On Monday at Larimore, he turned in one of his best races of the season with more than two days rest following the homecoming football game Sept. 26.
Bernhardt led the Panthers to a team win and finished the 3.1-mile race in 17 minutes, 59 seconds. He took second place, 14 seconds behind Nick Pedersen of Hatton-Northwood-Thompson. Despite constant battles with cramping – a product of football soreness – and putting in far less training miles than Class B’s top cross-country-only competitors, Bernhardt expected to win.
“Tanner was upset he didn’t win,” RHS cross country coach Bill Jansen said, “but, hey, the kid who won is good.”
Jansen chuckled at Bernhardt’s competitive nature, which helps offsets any practice time he cedes to football. Jansen thumbed through photos on his smartphone, laughing at a lasting image of a spindly, but feisty Bernhardt from his running days in junior high.
“Everything I do is tailored to his football schedule,” Jansen said. “He comes to us after football, so it all has to do with, ‘How do you feel today?’ Lots of times we send him home. They get good workouts over (at football practice).”
Jansen is used to working with two-sport athletes. Recent standouts included Jeremy Johnston, Kyle Volk and Dustin Jundt. Jansen described Jundt as an anomaly because he started as a cross country guy in high school and took up football later in his time at RHS. Whereas, some football players look to running for better conditioning, Jundt’s running benefitted from the physicality and strength football added.
RHS won the 2011 boys cross country state championship and was runner-up in 2010. Jansen recalls the toughness the two-sport players bring with a memory of Bernhardt and Volk running the state meet in Dickinson and driving immediately to Fargo for an evening playoff game at Shanley.
“(Tanner) was in the top 10 through the first half of the race, but had a big knot in his quad or hamstring,” Jansen said. “They had to cart him off the course and then they drove to Fargo. He played in the football game and got (an interception).”
Finding a balance depends on coaches in both sports and Jansen said football coach Scott Grochow is great about letting his players break away, if an important cross country meet looms. In return, Jansen makes sure a key starter like Bernhardt remains as fresh as possible.
“I’m not gonna kill you off here because you won’t be good for either one of us,” Jansen said.
The athlete also has to make tough decisions, but Bernhardt doesn’t temper his expectation to finish in the top-10 at state cross country this year. The rush on the course is different from scoring a touchdown, but he relishes high moments in both.
“When you’re running by a group of people or passing somebody, or if you finish first in a meet that compares to it too,” Bernhardt said.
Jansen also coaches ReeAnn Christianson, a senior volleyball player, who factors into the cross country scoring. Volleyball coach Jessica Fritz understands Christianson’s affinity and value in both sports.
“She told ReeAnn to go to a (recent) meet,” Jansen said of Fritz. “ReeAnn was all worried she’d miss something new at volleyball practice.”
Panthers win Larimore meet
RHS wont he Larimore meet on the boys side with 68 points followed by Griggs County Central at 95 and H-N-T at 108. Nolan Hovland was fifth overall and the second Panther to finish. He ran 18:30.
Christianson was sixth on the girls team and helped push the Panthers to a third-place team finish behind Surrey and Valley City.
Allison Foster led the Panthers and finished sixth overall with a time of 16:15 in the 4K (2.58 miles).
“Allie ran another real nice race,” Jansen said. “Her races have been really consistent. We’re waiting for her to break into the 15s sometime soon.”
The Panthers compete in Minot today, in a meet featuring the top Class B teams in the west.
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