When fourth-year Vivian Van Eck started cross country in fifth grade, she hated it.
Waking up at 6:25 a.m. for cross country practice on weekday mornings, fourth-year Vivian Van Eck said it’s a funny story how she stayed with the sport.
The only reason she stuck around for another year was a budding relationship with a new friend, and they said they would give it another try. They went to the state competition the following year.
Van Eck and her friend thought they should keep going.
“Then eighth grade we went to state [too] and then continued it through high school.” Van Eck said. “I never thought that I’d run in college, but I guess I surprised myself and had some fun with it.”
Now, in her final year with Ball State cross country, Van Eck is focused on finishing her career as a Cardinal strong after a good start to the season.
“I think our team clicks really well together,” Van Eck said. “I have a lot of fun at practice, and this has been one of my favorite years at Ball State. I don’t know if it’s the energy of being a senior and having a little bit of a leadership role or what, but I really think we’re working hard and taking every opportunity to do our best…At first, it was hard to hear that we didn’t have a home meet because it’s always fun.
The one hang-up of the season was Ball State’s lack of home meet opportunities.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they were going to come to our home meets,” Van Eck said. “But you work with what you’ve got, and I am going to take every race as an opportunity to do my best.”
Head coach Adrian Wheatley said most of those decisions come down to scheduling and other meet schedules across the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
“[When] we’re looking at scheduling and things of that nature, you are competing against other, more established meets that are on the schedule,” Wheatley said. “Our sport is a little different from other sports, again, it’s you’re at the mercy of what’s going on that weekend, and we have come up against a couple weekends where there are some established meets that attract other teams.”
The Cardinals last hosted a home meet in October 2020, which also marked the first Ball State Athletic since the COVID-19 pandemic. In her career, Van Eck has only competed in one competition at home, her freshman season in 2019.
“Sophomore year, I was injured, and then last year, I don’t think we had a home meet, and we didn’t have one this year either,” Van Eck said.
Fourth-year Juliana Stogsdill has run at home twice during her career, but not in the last two years.
“I think it was just seeing people I know on the course cheering and at the finish,” Stogsdill said. “It was nice not having to drive five hours, [and] just the atmosphere [was great with] everyone in Ball State gear.”
Ball State’s practice course, the Muncie Elks Country Club Golf Course, is also the course used when the Cardinals host meets and where Van Eck last broke her personal record.
“I remember my mom came and my grandma came, so I knew they were there, and it was really good to see them,” Van Eck said. “... It was just a lot of home support. We practice in the golf course where we race, so it was a lot of comfortability.”
Heading into the 2022 MAC Championships, Ball State has been on the road for 13 straight races (including MAC and NCAA Championships). Traveling as a unit has been ingrained in the Cardinals' culture as part of the bonding experience, according to Stogsdill.
“I think we’re a sport that has the best team culture,” Stogsdill said. “Sometimes it is hard, especially the day of [competition] when we drive up [and] our legs are kind of stiff, [but] I don’t really mind staying in a hotel, it kind of gives it the full race experience and actually feels like a race.”
Wheatley, in his second year with the Cardinals, said the away mentality does not affect the Cardinal culture or his coaching style.
“Our objective, again, is making sure we’re putting the best product out there,” Wheatley said. “We don’t buy into that narrative. [If] we’re on the road, we’re going to be competitive; [if] we’re at home, we’re going to be competitive. Everything we do is a dress rehearsal for the big show. It doesn’t really change what we’re doing.”
Ball State finished fourth of seven teams in the Vic Godfrey Open Sept. 2 to start the 2022 season and finished in the top ten in their other three races before the MAC Championships Oct. 29 in Athens, Ohio.
“I’m so excited for [the] MAC [Championships] because I think we can surprise some people,” Van Eck said.
Contact Daniel Kehn and Andy Newman with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com or on Twitter @daniel_kehn and @newmandy1863.