Three years ago, as a seventh grader, Morgan Crouch was simply looking for something to do. By her own admission, she knew virtually nothing about the sport of running.
One year later, she found she had a fire for cross country. She went on to take a few extra laps around a lake in preparation for her freshman season and has since parlayed that into a solid fall for Kevin Gummerson's Indians.
In fact, Crouch made such strides from the beginning of the season until the end race down at Detweiller Park that she's been named the Morris Daily Herald Runner of the Year.
Just do it
As a member of the Minooka Junior High cross country team in the seventh grade, Crouch had few, if any, grand visions of excelling at the sport.
"I ran at Minooka Junior High starting in the seventh grade but I didn't take it seriously. I wasn't too competitive until the eighth grade," she said. "Actually, in seventh grade I had no idea of what cross country was about at all. I just showed up to be doing something. Then in the seventh grade track season, me and some of the girls became close friends after we went to state for track."
Close friends such as Maggie Ward spurred Crouch on to be the best she could be.
"Maggie and I were on the 4x4 relay team together. After we did that, she talked me into going out for cross country again," Crouch said. "I went out my eighth grade year and that's when I really started loving cross country. Things went really well. That set the ball rolling for me to continue with cross country."
Making an effort
Crouch said that the biggest difference between her seventh- and eighth-grade seasons running for the Indians came down to simple desire.
"I was trying harder. I got a better feel for the sport," she said. "I decided that I didn't just want to do it for fun, I wanted to be competitive."
The Indians went to state that year and Crouch placed 20th and recorded a personal-best time at state.
"In the seventh grade, I was not good at all," Crouch said. "In the eighth grade, I had the leading time every other race except for the last two."
In this past offseason, Crouch and her family spent the summer at Lake Saugany in Indiana.
"My family has a lake house there and that's where we spend our summers," she said.
The major downside to that is the fact that Crouch was not training with the Indians.
"I was really nervous at the beginning of the season because I wasn't there with the team for summer running," she said. "I didn't know what to expect. Gummerson gave me an idea of what I should do and the miles to put in each week. I tried to put in 20 miles a week last summer."
She did that by circling Lake Saugany.
"Actually, it was perfect. One time around the lake was two miles, and that was easy to do," Crouch said. "Two or three laps around the lake and that would be it for the day."
Debuting for the Indians
Eventually, Crouch was there for the start of the season for Minooka, and it was an eye-opening experience for her.
"It was overwhelming. There are so many kids that went out," Crouch said. "I came in wanting to have the best season and to step up and be out front. I wanted coach to see that I wanted to be the best I could be."
For the first three meets, Crouch ran with the frosh-soph team, but right after the Hinsdale frosh-soph race, she got the call to run with the varsity.
"Gummerson took the times down and I was second overall," she said of the Hinsdale race. "After that, he told me that he wanted me running with the older girls."
By the Southwest Prairie Conference varsity race, she finished third — and was somewhat disappointed with it.
"I was a little disappointed because I was actually two seconds away from a PR," Crouch said. "Still, it was a good race."
Down to Detweiller
Crouch ran the state course at Detweiller Park during the regular season for the Indians at the Woodruff Invitational. That would turn out to be her lone preview for running in the Class 3A finals for Minooka.
It may have turned out even better than anyone could imagine since Crouch ended up 68th overall with a time of 17:49.
"Morgan came in and had a tremendous impact on this team," Gummerson said. "She was best when the pressure was the greatest, and she handled the challenges of the State Series with the composure of a veteran.
Crouch said that Gummerson's advice for her before the state was simply to get up and go.
"Gummerson told me that he wanted me to get out fast," she said. "To push myself in the back loop and then to finish as strong as I could. I was nervous, but he's a good coach and he helps me strategize races."
Considering that Crouch is just a freshman, she is not even certain what the future holds for her and how much she can improve over the next three years at MCHS.
"I'm not really sure. I feel so blessed to be where I am," Crouch said. "The thing I want to do is to improve from here on out and to help the team get better."