Try to top this pattern of improvement.

St. Croix Central’s Jakob Eggen was barely able to make the Panther varsity seven as a freshman, but got to run in the WIAA Division 2 State Cross Country Championship, where he placed 133rd. As a sophomore, Eggen made a vast step forward to become Central’s top runner, including leading the Panthers with a 60th place finish at the 2018 Division 2 state race.

That improvement was just the tip of the iceberg. As a junior, Eggen played 11th at state after winning the Division 2 sectional individual championship. The 11th place effort ties for the second best finish ever by a Panther boy at the state meet. Central’s Brett Johnson has the top finish, placing eighth in 2010, a year after he placed 11th as a junior.

Part of the growth was physical. Eggen was tall and skinny as a freshman. Now he stands six-feet, two-inches and he thinks he’s grown into his frame, giving him the strength and coordination with his filled-out frame.

But the growth has also come in learning the sport and the self-discipline to put in the time and effort to make the improvement happen.

Central coach Bill Emery told a story of Eggen’s desire to improve. After his sophomore season, Eggen asked if he could be the team captain for the following season. Emery turned him down, saying that senior Erik Collins had earned the responsibility of serving as captain. But the gesture by Eggen showed something to his coach.

“He has goals. He wants to be successful and to be a leader,” Emery said.

Running runs in the Eggen family, with both of his parents having run marathons. That helped Jakob get into running at an early age. As a fourth grader, he set a goal to run 180 miles in a year.

“I took a liking to running and started running 5Ks here and there,” he said.

Eggen said he hopes to continue his running career in college.

“I’m looking to get fast enough to get offered a scholarship,” he said.

Eggen is strong academically and that shows in his future plans. He’s planning to study economics and is looking for universities with strong engineering programs.

His scholastic approach carries into his running. Emery credited Eggen for always wanting to learn more about the many aspects of running and competing. Eggen said that’s not just his plan, but the way everyone on the team approaches the sport.

St. Croix Central juniors Jakob Eggen and Cougar Holder (l-r) are shown after they completed the Nike Cross Regionals in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Sunday, Nov. 10. Submitted photo
St. Croix Central juniors Jakob Eggen and Cougar Holder (l-r) are shown after they completed the Nike Cross Regionals in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Sunday, Nov. 10. Submitted photo

“We have fun, but we know when we have to get to work,” he said. “We have a good group of boys and girls who push each other.”

Eggen, Collins, Cougar Holder and Josh Burgess have all been running together since sixth grade and he said their friendship is the center of the team’s chemistry. Eggen said he was more nervous when he ran at the sectional meet than he was at the state meet. He said his biggest concern at state was having the team perform well so the seniors could end their careers on a positive note.

Over the past summer, Eggen said he was averaging 45 miles a week of running, doing different types of running to strengthen all aspects of his racing. He also lifted in the weight room every morning. The Panthers are one of the most dedicated area cross country teams in utilizing the weight room.

“The lifting helps with strength building for speed,” Eggen said.

Emery said he’s looking forward to future seasons with the dedication the Panthers are showing.

“From the coach’s perspective, Jakob and the other runners at SCC have a lot to celebrate because of all the extra things they do to hone their craft. Next year, who knows, maybe the podium at state maybe a trip to Nationals,” Emery said.

Part of the challenge for the Panthers is the strength of their schedule. By running in meets like the Roy Griak Invitational and the Milaca Mega Meet, the Panthers are accustomed to running in large crowds. Eggen said that helps with race strategy, particularly in setting his pace in the opening mile of bigger races.

The desire to keep challenging themselves in big meets led Eggen, Holder and Mya Kizer from the Panther girls team to the Nike Cross Regionals in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Sunday. And again, these Panthers rose to the challenge, with all three Central runners recording personal best times. Eggen and Holder ran in the boys open race, with Eggen finishing in 16:43 to place 11th and Holder in 17:11 to place 33rd. Kizer ran in the girls championship race, where she placed 84th out of 245 runners, in a time of 18:52. It was the first time in her career she’s finished under 19 minutes.