Zach Long (blue hoodie) and Nick Scheller (grey hoodie) at the head of the pack photographed on Monday, October 31, 2016, in Chanhassen, Minn. ] RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER • email@example.com
The first time Nick Scheller saw Zach Long in middle school gym class, right after Long had moved to Minnesota from Illinois, he wasn’t certain he liked him.
Scheller was the king of the “Pacer” drill, designed to measure the endurance level of students.
“I was always the only one still going and then he comes in,” Scheller said. “I didn’t like that too much.”
That was two years ago, when both were in seventh grade. Since then Scheller and Long not only have become friends, but also the talk of the high school cross-country community.
Scheller won the Class 2A, Section 2 championship at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista on Oct. 27. Long finished 0.4 seconds behind in second place. That’s two Chanhassen freshmen finishing 1-2 in a hotly contested section with a trip to the state meet on the line.
“That kind of thing just doesn’t happen,” Storm coach Andy Powell said.
Powell said older team members first brought them to his attention before their eighth-grade season while training with their future teammates.
“I was actually told by the older kids on the team to watch these guys because they couldn’t run their legs off,” Powell said “They weren’t intimidated at all. They’re fearless.”
Long and Scheller generally run together, often leading the pack. The duo catch the eyes of opponents and coaches whenever they race.
“They’re noticeably smaller than everyone else, but they hang in there,” Powell said. “They’ve developed a cult following. Everybody asks about them.”
In races leading up to the section meet, Long always had managed to finish ahead of Scheller, albeit by the slimmest of margins. To have that order flip-flopped tells Powell that they’re pushing each other to succeed.
“What’s so amazing about what they’re doing is that they’ve never been separated by more than two seconds in any race,” he said. “And usually, it’s just a fraction of a second. That’s impressive because it shows their competitiveness. They never have a bad day or take a day off. They bring out this powerful beast in each other.”
Long said as teammates in similar circumstances, the two of them communicate frequently on the course, often in a non-verbal way.
“We talk sometimes, but usually it’s in a different way,” he said. “And usually we can tell what the other one is doing or going to do.”
Both say that a large portion of their rapid development can be traced to the other. That competitive fire that shows up in races also fuels their training regimen.
“If I see him pick things up, I’ll do it too,” Scheller said. “He definitely makes me a better runner.”
Being as young as they are, neither harbored serious thoughts about winning the Class 2A state meet, which took place Saturday in Northfield.
“I look at it as a great experience and a way for us to learn and get better,” Long said last week. “It will be fun.”
With the duo’s marked improvement this season, Powell thinks both will be state championship contenders soon.
“They already have the tools,” he said. “They don’t take a day off, they have high motors, they’re extremely coachable. They have so much potential. They just have to add a few more pieces.”
Jim Paulsen • 612-673-7737