VIRGINIA — It wasn’t ideal conditions for Rock Ridge junior Cameron Stocke this cross country season.
The 800 meter state champion from the last track and field season came into the fall season with an injury sustained during summer basketball that set him back quite a bit and derailed his summer training program.
Still, Stocke pushed through the setbacks and got himself back into the shape he needed to be in to help lead the Wolverines to a Section 7AA title in their first year as a program. At state, Stocke ran with the front of the pack and took sixth with a time of 16:11.31 while pacing the Rock Ridge contingent to a fifth place team finish.
For his efforts this season out on the race course, Stocke has been named the All-Iron Range Boys’ Cross Country Runner of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
A seasoned runner with plenty of state experience under his belt in both track and field and cross country, Stocke knew he needed to run a hefty amount of miles in the summer if he wanted to compete for a state title in cross country this season. Unfortunately, that simply wasn’t possible with his injury.
“I didn’t start running until the very first day of practice,” Stocke said. “That’s okay if you’re just looking to improve but if you really want to compete, you have to run all summer. I couldn’t do that so now I’m just thinking, ‘let’s see what happens.’
“I knew I would improve throughout the season with the more I ran but I was basically starting from scratch which was definitely interesting.”
With the state meet held the first weekend in November, Stocke said he didn’t feel like he was able to run his best until late October this season and even suffered a setback trying to rush the process.
“I did jump in a little too early and ended up straining one of my quad muscles and that bothered me for the majority of the season. From the beginning until about the middle it was really bothering me. Towards the end it kind of just faded away and it felt like I could finally run like I wanted to.”
At the state meet, the Section 7AA individual champion Stocke set his own expectations a little lower than normal due to the original injury and was able to surprise himself a little bit.
“I was honestly just looking to improve on my section time and to hopefully medal (top 10). I really wasn’t expecting sixth. That’s what I finished in ninth grade but i was happy to take it for sure.”
Had he not been injured, Stocke believes he could have earned the second state title of his high school career.
“My goal would have been to win the whole thing. I felt good at state but I felt like I needed a few more weeks of solid training to be there.”
Stocke was reinforced in his belief when he ran a Thanksgiving turkey trot 5K race just a few weeks after state. He finished with a time of 15:50, three seconds faster than this year’s state champion.
Rock Ridge head coach Chris Ismil says that Stocke definitely has what it takes to win a cross country state title.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he can do that,” Ismil said. “I don’t know that there was any more he could have done this year. Cam is a high level runner that has his own training plan in his mind. He thinks he should have maybe ran a few more miles and played a little bit more catchup, but some may think he could have rested a bit more and done better that way.
“The great thing about Cam is that he knows he’s capable of doing it. He’s done it in track and he knows there’s no perfect formula for getting it done. He’s still improving as a runner and as long as he keeps his mind open to changes in his training, I don’t think there’s a limit on what he can do.”
A student at Virginia, Stocke appreciated the season even more after combining with Eveleth-Gilbert, bringing in new runners to train with every day.
“It was fantastic being a part of that new Rock Ridge team this year,” Stocke said. “From day one, we connected as a group. A majority of the Eveleth-Gilbert guys were juniors like me so we connected pretty well. It was just a really fun season and it gave everyone more people to run with and it just made it that much more fun I think.
The return of senior runner Aaron Nelson also helped push Stocke, with Nelson running in front of him at the beginning of the season while Stocke worked his way back up.
“We ran pretty much every day together this year. It was so nice to have him. He’s definitely one of the guys on the team I’m going to miss the most.”
Ismil believes the pair worked well off of each other and both benefited from it with Stocke taking sixth at state and Nelson finishing 16th out of 160.
“Cam has already taught himself how to train on his own and stay motivated like that but having someone like Aaron this year to help push him was really a wonderful opportunity. Cam was trying to reach him in the beginning of the season and Aaron was trying to catch back up to Cam by the end of it.”
Shying away from basketball after his injury this past summer, Stocke has taken up Nordic skiing in the hopes of improving his aerobic fitness for long distance events.
“It’s been fun trying that out. I knew I didn’t want to potentially re-injure myself and face another setback for track season so skiing felt like a good fit. I’ve Nordic skied in the past and it’s definitely something that would be helpful for running so I figured why not give it a shot.”
With one more season of cross country left in his high school career, Stocke says he’ll be aiming for that state title as a senior.
“Senior year I for sure have to go out on top. Winning a cross country title is tough. In my opinion it’s harder than track but maybe that’s just because I like track a little bit more,” Stocke joked. “Getting that elusive cross country title my senior year would be special.”
Ultimately, Stocke’s junior year of cross country was quite a bit different than what he originally imagined but he’s glad he was able to finish strong and take some positives from it.
“It was a learning experience. It taught me a lot about how to persevere when things aren’t going perfect. I also met a lot of really cool people this year and most of them are returning next year so that makes it even more exciting.”
In addition to Stocke, the All-Iron Range Boys’ Cross Country Team includes: Aaron Nelson, Jack Kendall, John Kendall and Connor Matschiner of Rock Ridge; Austin Hanson of Grand Rapids; Jeffrey Kayfes of Mountain Iron-Buhl; Connor Thoennes, Daniel Olson, Riley Koran, Ben Plackner and Levi Danielson of Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin and Alex Burckhardt of South Ridge/Cherry/North Woods/Northeast Range.