Sam Ferrar is one of the most underappreciated athletes in Coles County. 

The senior cross country runner was once “the man.” Fastest on the team as a freshman, the whole nine yards. Despite all that, Ferrar still remembers the day his junior high teammate and potential state qualifier, Brock Davee, joined the team. 

“I remember being thrilled when I found out Brock was joining the team,” said Ferrar. “Being the fastest on the team was fun, but adding Brock was huge. After adding Brock, we turned into a winning team. And ultimately, when it comes down to it, the success of the team is much more important than individual success.”

Ferrar could have easily been upset with his new role. After all, Ferrar never finished All-Apollo in his career, finishing as close as 11th place. Instead, Ferrar decided to help the team at all costs, which included running one of his best races at the Olney Regional where he finished 13th overall. 

“Sam has been pretty motivated and has been a heckuva runner,” said head coach Troy Haacke. “When he first started, he was our No. 1 runner his freshman year. Then, Brock joined his sophomore year and he took a different role. He’s been a huge part of the team from being a captain to being a leader.”

Haacke said that Ferrar, who was the team’s fifth runner last year, set a goal for himself going into the season as the team’s No. 2 runner. He wanted to finish top-10 at every race. 

“The big question going into each meet was where you need to be,” said Haacke. “He finished 13th at Regionals where top-10 has always been a goal for him. He’s done just that at quite a few meets. It’s a nice philosophy. Saturday, it’s the same deal. Where do you need to be and put yourself in a chance and see what happens.”

Ferrar was one of a few runners that had to step up this season. The Green Wave returned state qualifier Brock Davee, but lost All-Apollo selection Trent Hettinger to soccer. Quincy Hamilton also returned to soccer, which was moved last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the team’s No. 4 runner Mac Beadles graduated. 

One of those runners was senior Chase Armstrong, who made his way to the team’s top five for the first time in four years of running cross country for Mattoon. 

“Everybody felt the pressure, especially with two other teams projected to finish only a few points behind us,” said Armstrong. “Instead of letting that affect my performance negatively, it gave me more drive and conviction.”

Armstrong finished with his best overall time of the season for a three-mile course at the Regional. Outside of a few meets at a very fast course, Armstrong was struggling to break the 19-minute mark. Armstrong said that the possibility of this being his last meet propelled him to do his best. 

“The coaches and parents along the course were extremely encouraging,” said Armstrong. “Also, I was determined to run my hardest, as it was regionals and it was potentially my last high school cross country race.”

Sophomore Colton Smith also ran his best race of the year, while junior Cale Fogarty also ran one of his best races. Given what Mattoon lost, what they needed, and how close the team was to going home, the Green Wave defied the odds. 

“It’s amazing that we qualified for sectionals,” said Ferrar. “It was a battle though but we all ran our hearts out. And it’s always fun to see the young guys killing it. With me, Brock, and Chase graduating, it’s good to see that the team will be in a good place once we leave. These young guys are going to be special. Day in and day out, they’re working their tails off.”

Ferrar said that the team discussed the team’s goals at the beginning of the season and that making the sectional was the priority. He said that he knew the team had the talent, but Haacke was also aware of what the team lost. 

For that reason, he believes it makes it more impressive for what the team accomplished this year. 

“I think Brock said it best earlier,” said Haacke. “With a young team, we lost a lot to soccer going into the year. Trent (Hettinger) and Quincy (Hamilton) were big parts of the sectional team last year. Outside of Brock and Sam, we didn’t have much experience. We had a lot of young kids step up.”

Mattoon is unlikely to make the state finals as a team, but Davee is projected to make it out as an individual, especially after winning the Olney Regional. 

“I think he can,” said Haacke. “He has run the course and ran one of his best times this year when he won at Hickory Point. The course might be a little wet, but he has beaten a lot of the ids, while some kids ranked ahead might be on teams that qualify. He’s healthy, focused, and determined right now, so he has a great chance.”

Haacke is hopeful that the entire team can run one last great race. With the rain falling down the last two days, he’s not worried about times. If a personal best comes along the way, that is great, but the true team goal will be the fight his team brings to the competition. 

“Ideally, you want to make a shot at making state, but we are a long shot, so the alternative is to run your best race of the year,” said Haacke. “If the course is muddy and sloppy, we might not set a PR. We want to see Brock make a run at state. I just want to see them be competitive and fight for positioning. If they do that, I will be pretty happy.”