WEST WINDSOR: Schoepfer’s long, slow road back

Pirates senior returning to MOC with team

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Brian Schoepfer isn’t running as fast as he expected to be this year, but his frustration after coming off a hip injury has been placated by the historical accomplishments of the West Windsor-Plainsboro South boys cross country team.
   ”Obviously,” Schoepfer said, “there’s the part in me that’s not happy and frustrated with the way the season’s been going. At the same time, you have to enjoy what you do have. We do have an awesome team and I’m still a big part of the success of that.
   ”Sometimes it’s easy to get down and frustrated. But we still have this awesome team. You have to keep the important things in perspective.”
   Schoepfer will be joined by his Pirates team, the West Windsor-Plainsboro North team and individual entry Zaid Smart of Princeton High at the Meet of Champions at Holmdel Park on Saturday. Last year, Schoepfer ran as an individual there and placed 15th. With six seniors who finished ahead of him graduating, he expected to be a contender, but has had to modify those goals.
   ”Just because I know I’m not going to run super fast this season, I’m trying to get our team to run to our potential,” Schoepfer said. “I want to keep our team together and do what we can. Individually, I’d like to run what I did last year.”
   His main focus will be on the Pirates, who were second in Group IV to earn their first trip to the MOC since finishing seventh two years ago.
   ”Just because it’s not working out as you planned doesn’t mean it’s not working out,” said Pirates coach Kurt Wayton. “It’s working out on the team level.”
   Better than ever for the Pirates. Last month, they captured the Mercer County Championship, the first in Schoepfer’s career. They also won the sectional championship.
   ”Team-wise, it hasn’t been any more exciting than this year,” he said. “At sectionals, we didn’t race well, and groups we raced pretty horrendously and we still got second which is the highest we’ve placed as a team and had our best average. We’ve never been on the podium at Meet of Champs. I personally would like to be racing better at this point, but it’s exciting to be on such a good team.”
   Schoepfer’s hip was bothersome at the end of the spring track and field season last year. When he resumed training in the summer, it only got worse. A chiropractor finally made the proper adjustment to allow him to train again, but the damage had been done.
   ”There wasn’t a good full block of training,” said Schoepfer, who must focus on his core strength to ensure that his injury doesn’t return. When the preseason began, he felt behind. He started the year angry and frustrated, but Wayton assured him that he could still be a solid contributor by season’s end.
   ”What’s worked in the past is a lot of volume,” Wayton said. “We had to switch things around and try to get him into shape pretty fast. It’s tough for him. He seems reserved, but he’s a really fiery competitor. He takes things personally. He’s tough. He’s incredibly serious about his role as a runner.
   ”It’s been tough for him, especially senior year. He’s only been first one race for us, at sectionals.”
   Schoepfer did seem ready in November. When he was the Pirates’ top finisher at sectionals, he was just three seconds off the time he ran at Thompson Park the year before.
   ”I was feeling good that day, and I was in good shape by that point,” Schoepfer said. “At groups, I don’t know if that was my hip, or anything more than a bad race. The week or so going into sectionals, it felt like I was in good shape.”
   His 16:39 clocking at Holmdel last week was 16 ticks slower than his performance the year before. In every race, there are reminders of what Schoepfer is missing.
   ”It’s hard,” Schoepfer said. “You’re racing and you have kids pass you, and you think, I beat him last year, or the Riff twins blow by you. You can only do what you can do. It’s not fun to see that happen and not be able to get it going.”
   Schoepfer’s experience has proven vital to the Pirates. WW-P South has some returning runners, but no one has as much big-race experience as he does.
   ”He started off just like a lot of these freshmen guys, a middle of a packer,” Wayton said. “I think he has all-time freshman record in the mile, so he started to have success and from there, he took off. From a sophomore year on, he’s been in a very elite crowd.
   ”He needs to be a leader and needs to lead by example. He’s done a good job of that. He controls the pace of most runs and leads most workouts. He offers the younger guys advice. He’s kind of been like an assistant coach this year.”
   Except that Schoepfer isn’t stuck on the sidelines. He’s still going out, maybe slower than he had hoped, and helping the Pirates to new heights. He will line up for his final MOC cross country championship as leader of their pack.
   ”It’s going to be fun to run as a team,” Schoepfer said. “It’s definitely more satisfying when you have a team to share it with.”