Coach Carstens congratulates Jen (hidden) after her state win.
This was Carstens' seventh team trip to state in his 28 years at Paynesville. He has earned the honor of Section Cross Country Coach of the Year eight times. He made his first trip to state in 1977. Three members of that team were in attendance at the welcome home Sunday evening, Larry Wendroth, Bill Hoeft, and Greg O'Brian.
Members of that first team to compete at state were: Greg O'Brian, Bill Hoeft, Larry and Loren Wendroth, Tim Warner, Herb Berscheid, and Kevin Linn.
"Time goes fast when you are having fun," Carstens said of his years at Paynesville. As a student, Carstens ran track in high school and cross country in college. His philosophy is for the runners to have fun, work hard, set high goals for themselves, and to find kids willing to do their best. "Runners need that will power and determination to run distance," Carstens said.
Carstens also credits his winning ways to tradition. "It's nice to have good help, it makes a program stable," Carstens said. Rick Houske has been his assistant coach 21 years. This year a former runner of Carstens was added to the coaching staff. Todd Spanier was an all-state runner his senior year in 1990.
Former Paynesville runner Joel Fenske has hosted a camp the past two summers in Paynesville. Carstens credits this camp with giving the runners a good jump start on the season.
Carstens has also had a lot of former runners come back to practice with the team. At least a dozen former runners have gone on to run in college. Among them are Nick Haglund, Joel Fenske, Camille Flanders, Ryan Louis, Tina Lang, and Matt Jorgensen.
"I like to see kids continue to run after high school. Running is something they can carry on into life," Carstens said.
Carstens hasn't always had the numbers in the program he would like. His highest team count has been 43 and last year he had only nine competing.
His goal is to have between 25 and 35 runners to make a good team. "Good enough to qualify for state," Carstens said. This year there are 24 runners and seven of them are girls.
On varsity, the team can only run seven individuals. At the junior varsity level, a team can run as many students as they want.
Each year Carstens sends out close to 60 letters to prospective cross country runners. Out of that 60, he's happy to get 35 runners.
"If the kids show an interest in running, I'll send them a letter," Carstens said. Some students receive three letters a summer. Carstens might not always get the student out for cross country right away, but many prospective runners have joined during the season.
"Paynesville's cross country teams are well-respected in the state," Carstens said. That gives him a good all-around feeling. The tradition dates back to the 1970s.
Carstens said his title as coach of the year is meaningless. He received the honor because his team did well. He gives a lot of credit to his assistant coaches, team members, and parents.
"I'd rather have the kids have memories of doing great things in school and get a lot out of the sport," he said. Cross country is a great sport. The runners cheer for each other and have fun during their workouts, he added.
Whether there are 40 kids out for the team or nine, Carstens treats the last runner as important as the top runner. "The top runners are self-motivated, it's important to keep the bottom runners as part of the team. They all need to feel important as they are all part of the team," Carstens stressed.
Houske commends Carstens for motivating the runners. "He keeps the kids fired up," Houske said. "He's good at it."
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