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Trading in boots for running shoes: How Sam Snyder broke a ten-year cross country drought

November 7, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

For many small schools across, maintaining a successful cross country team is difficult. Football and volleyball are far more popular fall sports for high school athletes. Unless you're program like Madrid or Pekin with a winning tradition, going out for running cross country is far from the minds of many students. That's why coach Katey Holbach was out recruiting for the North Tama cross country team she took over several years prior to 2018.

"We were looking for more male runners, just like we were this season, and I saw Sam walking to his truck after school. I just yelled out to him 'Hey! How about you join the XC team?'' Holbach said. "Sure enough, Sam said sure and joined that day. He ran in jeans and boots. For having zero training and the totally wrong attire, he did fantastic. I think it made Logan [Kennedy] excited as well because he now had someone to push him and run with."

Kennedy and Snyder were the only consistent runners for North Tama last season, yet the two then-sophomores complemented one another on the course. Kennedy got off to fast starts, while Snyder hang back for awhile and then start picking people off towards the end of the race. Snyder's potential became evident when he placed in the top 15 of the South Tama Invitational that season.

Article Photos

Sam Snyder running in the State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge on Saturday, Nov. 2.

"Sam was a good runner last year, but didn't really believe he was capable of State or being in the top," Holbach said. "For some reason at Districts last year, he finally went out and ran hard from the very start of the race and placed 17th. That not only surprised himself, but it surprised me. I knew he could do it, but I didn't think he'd get that close to State.

According to Holbach, from that moment on Snyder had his mind set on making it to the State Meet in Fort Dodge in 2019.The junior jump into his second year of practice with that same determination Holbach saw almost a year ago. Kennedy was back alongside him, plus the program picked up classmate Paden Ketter and Scott Lewis, who was new to the school. Though one shy of qualifying as a team, the season proved a successful one as Snyder placed highly in a majority of his meets. His vision remained on being the first male North Tama runner to reach State since 2009, which coincidentally was the year Holbach ran as a junior for Hudson and placed 56th overall as the Pirates finished fifth in the team standings.

"When you get to Fort Dodge though and see all of the runners, it can be really intimidating," Holbach said. "It's not a normal meet. You know that you are running with the best of the best in the state. However, that also makes it really exciting because you are one of those top runners."

Holbach believes Snyder was feeling that "same mix of nerves and excitement" during the drive over to Fort Dodge and getting up to that starting line. In preparation for his run, Snyder walked the relatively flat course to seek out spots he knew he could pass his competition The start was wide open, so a fast start to the race was critical in the long haul.

"At this race, I asked Sam to change his strategy a little bit," Holbach said. "Sam is excellent at hanging back the first mile and then picking everyone off as the race goes. It works at most meets for him, but I knew that wouldn't be effective at state because he's running with extremely competitive runners. So, I asked Sam to get out from the very start. I didn't want him pushed to the back and try to chase down the leaders later on because that wouldn't be possible."

Snyder found himself in the middle of the race as packs slowly formed from the over 142 boys at the race. He found himself boxed in and having a difficult time passing runners.

"Everyone raced well here and it's tough competition on a fast course," Snyder said. "I'm happy to be here than anywhere else."

The Redhawk junior finished with a personal best of 17:53 and 62nd overall. Though time placing wasn't necessarily what Snyder wanted to achieve, it will serve as motivation for one last trip next year for his senior season.

"Sam did exactly what I asked of him and got out faster than I have ever seen," Holbach said. "I do think that messed up his mid race because he was a little bit more worn out in the middle, but he continued to pick people off from mile two until the end. I could not be more proud of how Sam did at state. He ran the best time that he's ever ran and that's all I could ask for. The fact that no male from NT has made it to state in 10 years is huge for Sam."

Snyder was greeted after his finish by teammates and classmates who had been cheering him on along the course. Holbach also took advantage of the opportunity to show the other Redhawk runners the layout of the course and give them a taste of the atmosphere in hopes of other North Tama athletes qualifying next season.

"It was awesome that all of his teammates came down to support Sam at State," Holbach said. "He needed their support and someone there to help take his mind off the race."

Yet the respect was mutual as Snyder represented his school on and off the course this school. A year removed from being recruited into cross country, Snyder is now set on recruiting more athletes to run and build the sport for North Tama.

"It was a great season for all of us, not just me," Snyder said. "Everyone hit PRs, put in their full effort and that's all that matters. I'd be really happy to have more people join. It's not an easy sport, but when you give it your all for your teammates, it's worthwhile."

August seems like quite a while for another season. But Snyder won't sitting on his hands the whole time. Wrestling and track are next up for the juniors and both sports can help keep him in shape and vice-versa cross country will help him with other sports.

"I think getting to State will help Sam's confidence in everything he does," Holbach said. But, participating in other sports will also help him stay in shape for his senior year of XC. I think this summer everyone who wants to go out for XC will have more training this summer to stay in shape, and already be in better shape at the start of the season. This will help Sam, and everyone else on the team, be more prepared for that first official practice."

Needless to say, Snyder won't show up to practice in boots and jeans.



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