Samuel Voelz wasn’t in a hurry after the Pendleton Heights Arabians Roundup last week. Instead, the New Palestine junior stretched one minute into two while gathering his gear scattered randomly under his team’s propped up red tent.
While his day was officially done, finishing with a fourth-place run at 16 minutes, 47.79 seconds, conversations seemed to crop up at every turn as runners from various teams assembled nearby. Voelz welcomed each one — both friends and new acquaintances — with a broad smile.
“This was only my third race since my last cross-country season,” Voelz said. “I’m happy to be back out here, again. I’m glad I’m back to running.”
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Flashback five months and things weren’t so cheerful for Voelz.
Unable to compete due to tendinitis in both of his Achilles tendons, walking, let alone running, conjured discomfort. The pain forced him to miss the track season last spring where he planned to lead the Dragons in the 3,200-meter event.
His body simply refused to cooperate.
“It was a rough track season. I tried running, but ultimately, I couldn’t, so my season was cut short,” Voelz said. “I think it might have been overuse from running all the time. I was putting in a lot of miles every week and a lot of pressure on it, but I can’t say for sure.”
Voelz was diagnosed with the injury in late winter just prior to the start of indoor track. His condition flared up while he was training. He can trace it back to a harmless misstep, landing wrong in a hole while in stride that caused him to “feel something” unusual.
Despite trying to work through it, Voelz said “it just never went away.”
Rest was the best cure, and it meant being stagnant — something Voelz found frustrating.
“Sam’s passion is running and trying to be the best he can be, so whenever something that you love is taken away, it hurts. And it hurts bad,” former New Palestine cross-country head coach Dan Weimer said. “But when it happened we tried to stay focused through that strife to find a positive.
“I think in the short term it hurt, but in the long term he’s going to be much better for it.”
Before the injury, Voelz was on pace to be one of the program’s best.
As a freshman, he immediately followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Caroline, who was a four-year varsity runner at New Palestine and a member of the 2010 cross-country team that placed 11th at semistate.
“His second meet his freshman year, he broke 17 minutes. I don’t care who you are, where you are or what grade you’re in, you go sub-17 as a high school athlete in the 5K, you’re starting to get there in terms of being a good cross-country runner,” Weimer said. “That was just the start. In his fourth meet, he went 16:37, so it’s been a progression.”
In his first season, Voelz was fourth at the Hancock County meet, 10th at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet, and 17th overall at sectional before finishing 11th at regional. Led by senior Seth Eagleston, the team advanced to semistate for the first time 1998.
Along the way, Voelz gained speed and valuable knowledge.
“The great thing for Sam was having Seth Eagleston on the team. Once (Seth) graduated, often you look around and ask now who’s going to be the top guy? Sam took that role on as a sophomore and had a phenomenal season,” Weimer said.
“That’s a difficult role because your age might not be on your side, but he took it, ran with it, embraced it and loves it, which makes, I think, this year and next year more manageable because of what he’s already been through.”
His sophomore season provided growing successes and growing pains.
Edged out of a county title by a step, Voelz was a narrow runner-up to Mt. Vernon’s Aaron Rush at 15:57.10, which ended New Palestine’s stranglehold on the individual championship. Eagleston claimed the race in three consecutive years prior.
In the postseason, Voelz was fourth at sectional with a 16:48.17, third at regional and advanced to semistate for a second year.
Before county he set a career-best mark of 15:57.0, and after the season in December he ran a 16:14 to gain All-American status in the USATF Junior Olympic National Cross Country Championships in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His team won the national title for the 15-16- year-old division.
“He had a beautiful fall, but for whatever reason his body just didn’t want to agree with him. He tried to get things going, but it never quite came back the way he wanted,” Weimer said. “He was doing everything right. It was just one of those unfortunate things you hate to see him or any other athlete go through.”
Voelz is appreciative for the present after overcoming the past.
Crediting the support of his father, Jim, the principal at Doe Creek Middle Schoool, and his mom, Krystena, a teacher at Greenfield-Central, Voelz said he is ready to move forward.
“This year, I’m trying to break our school record,” Voelz said. “I’m also trying to medal at state. Those are my two main goals for the season. … and county … I’m going to try to beat (Mt. Vernon’s Christian) Noble and (Aaron) Rush. It was close last year, and I’m still a little angry about that. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”
Voelz opened the season 13th with a 19:16.47 at the annual New Palestine Five-Way last month. He took fourth at the Brebeuf Jesuit Harvey Invitational in 16:31.1 in late August, and last weekend during the Noblesville Hokum Karem, Voelz and Chase Crowder teamed to finish 14th overall in 30:44 in the event’s “A” division.
“From all I’ve seen, Samuel is going to have a great year. He ran all summer,” New Palestine head coach Chuck Myers said. “He looks strong. I’m excited to see what he can do this season. There are no limits to what he can do. A state appearance isn’t out of the question for him, I think.”