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Cross-country feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by MNgremlin, Nov 6, 2015.

  1. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    First stab at a cross-country story as part of our monthly series profiling local athletes playing in college.

    MARSHALL - As a cross-country runner for the Tigers, 2012 Marshall High School graduate Grant VanKeulen learned early on that there are no easy ways out in cross-country running if you want to be successful. It's that same mindset that VanKeulen has kept with him through his time at South Dakota State.
    "One thing that I took from Marshall which has helped me in my collegiate career is that in distance running there are no shortcuts," VanKeulen said. "Mr. (Mike) Jacobs did an awesome job of drilling that into my head from the beginning. It's a sport where you get out what you put in."
    Now a senior, VanKeulen has put a lot of time into improving. After coming in as a freshman hardly able to handle 40 to 50 miles per week of running, VanKeulen mentioned he averages 75 to 80 miles per week this season and peaked at 90 miles.
    "Mr. Jacobs urged that get a good set of base miles in throughout the summer which would help me all fall," VanKeulen added. "He was right. I wasn't a believer in that in high school, but in college I have come to realize that much of the work is done long before the season starts."
    His work has been noticed by SDSU cross-country coach Rod DeHaven. DeHaven also noted that VanKeulen fought through early-season, but has rebounded.
    "Grant has continually put in more work from year to year and has realized some nice gains because of that," DeHaven said. "Some sickness early in the season set him back a bit and probably kept him from having a breakout season during cross-country, but I am sure both he and I believe that he is capable of more."
    The higher volume of practice miles also is a help on race days. While high school races are typically five kilometers, VanKeulen is running 8Ks and 10Ks at SDSU. The longer distance, along with the increased competition, are two of the biggest changes he's seen at the next level.
    "Part of college means running against people that are as talented, if not considerably more talented, on a regular basis," VanKeulen said. "This means that you need to be on the top of your game every time you perform, which takes some getting used to. Also, being able to handle an 8K or 10K race is much more exerting than a 5K was in high school."
    Today, part of his attention is in Northfield, as his brother Chase VanKeulen is running in his first state meet. The Class AA boys race begins at 11 a.m. at St. Olaf College.
    "I can't tell you how proud I am of Chase," Grant VanKeulen said. "He set goals to make it to the state meet after track season and he really worked hard all summer and season to accomplish it. It's been a treat to be able to look at results seeing how well he has done this year and say 'wow, I didn't run that fast on that course.'"
    Chase VanKeulen is the only boys runner who qualified for Marshall. His seventh-place time of 16:51.6 at the Section 2AA Championship in Hutchinson clinched his spot.
    "Qualifying as an individual is impressive, especially in Class AA," Grant VanKeulen added. "He got a taste of the meet last year when Blaine (Moran) brought him along, but this year he gets to make his own mark. Chase is happy that he made it, but I think he's far from satisfied. He wants to really cap the season with big race on the biggest stage in Minnesota."
  2. ringer

    ringer Member

    Thanks for posting and being open to constructive criticism.

    Several vital things are missing from this story.

    * It has no point. The only takeaway is that Grant runs farther in college than he did in high school (which is obvious; college sports are always more demanding than HS). Oh, and that his little brother is a decent runner for the same HS. Which, btw, means the writer can compare their HS times to show who might have the quicker legs (a fact that could also set up a great kicker) - but never does.

    * There is no mention of time so we have no idea how fast Grant is. It's a glaring omission for a running story because success in running is measured against a clock (or, in XC, placement -- but XC times are still telling). Also, if the whole point of the story is that the athlete increased his mileage, the extra mileage means nothing if the reader has no idea whether he's getting faster or slower because of it.

    * No results whatsoever. The kid's a college senior, right? At this point, doesn't he have any XC accomplishments? How has he placed in college races?

    * There's no mention that SDSU coach Rod DeHaven was an Olympic marathoner. When discussing the value of increased mileage, it's a detail worth adding because it gives DeHaven more credibility than any old coach of a D-I, D-II, or D-III school. Btw, the story should also include the team's NCAA classification because that's another key indication of how good the athlete is.

    * Lastly: the first two paragraphs say exactly the same thing. Pick one or the other, not both.

    I hope that's helpful. Everything that's missing can be fixed with additional reporting.

    More importantly, I hope your editor made the same points. If not, you might be better served by switching departments.
  3. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    It is helpful. Some of it was tough criticism to hear, but I honestly can't disagree with any of it. I think I focused too much on just transitioning from quote to quote, rather than using quotes to back up good info. I'm usually good about that as a stats/research nut, but it's harder in XC because there's only one stat to really talk about from a single event, while there are so many more in basketball/football.

    Like I said, this was my first XC story, and I'll take to heart what you said.
  4. ringer

    ringer Member

    Oops, I didn't mean to be a downer. I just tend to be direct. But I think you will improve really quickly if you stay as receptive as you seem.

    As for XC stats... there are plenty, but you might have to poke around a bit.

    Then, if you're not sure how to interpret his best times (or if they're all over the map), college bios can be useful because they condense the highlights. From there, all you have to do is pick the ones that sound most impressive.

    Another trick is to is to simply ask the athlete what he considers to be his biggest achievement in the sport and why. Sometimes it's not even a top-3 finish, it's returning from a setback. That, in itself, might provide a good storyline.
  5. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    Yeah, I actually did ask him that, but I think I got too caught up in the brother angle with the HS state meet the same day as the article run date that I glossed over it when reviewing my notes.
  6. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    Glad you realize that. Ringer makes all the main points, so take that to heart and you'll get better. I would think cross country is one of the tougher sports to write about, but you just have to get the times in there, or top-5 finishes or show improvement along the way. I would also say that if the state meet is the peg, it should be higher up in the story and somehow tie in with that better. Maybe if the kid is planning to go to college, tie them together with how much more work/learning he will have to do? Dunno. It's a well-written story. It just doesn't tell us a lot. But keep working on it.
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