BY JEFF FALK
It’s sort of like going from a bench player on the JV team to a starter on the varsity.
Or like shooting in the 90s in golf, then becoming a scratch player.
It’s akin to playing class A minor league baseball one year, and going to the majors the next.
The improvement that Bryce Ebersole has exhibited in his distance running is hard to quantify and difficult to fathom. Let’s just say there haven’t been too many athletes locally who have improved as much as Ebersole has, in as short a period of time.
Ebersole is a senior distance runner on the Cedar Crest track and field team. He’s been running for all of two years now. And the level at which he is now competing is comparable to some of the Falcons’ best of all-time.
“Yes. Absolutely,” said Ebersole when asked if he realizes just how much he has improved. “I think about it all the time. I never said, ‘This is where I want to be.’ I couldn’t imagine that I could be among some of the best runners at Cedar Crest. I tried my best and it’s been paying off. I’m happy, but not satisfied. I’m not going to stop improving now.”
“His improvement is noteworthy, legendary,” said Cedar Crest head coach Rob Bare of Ebersole. “To go from an 11:01 to a 9:38 is just phenomenal. When you look at him, you know he’s going to give you everything he’s got. Nothing rattles him.”
Last year as a junior, Ebersole’s personal best in the 1600 meters was 4:59. and 11:01 in the 3200 meters, which are good, but not impresssive times. This spring, Ebersole has been clocked at 4:29 in the 1600 and 9:38 in the 3200.
Those are ‘drops’ of 30 seconds and 1:23, almost unheard of in scholastic track and field circles. Earlier this spring, when Ebersole ripped off his 9:38 at an invitational meet, it was good enough to beat Lower Dauphin sophomore Jeff Groh, who won the District Three Class AAA cross country championship in the fall.
While Ebersole didn’t put his best foot forward in finishing second and ninth in the distance events at last weekend’s Lancaster-Lebanon League meet, he will be in search of futher improvement at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University on Friday and Saturday.
“I would definitely agree that running is a lot of hard work,” said Ebersole. “If you keep working at it, you can get good at it. But there are some people who have the talent for running.
“Individually, in the two-mile, I’m hoping to medal (at the district meet),” added Ebersole. “I’m seeded eighth, but I definitely have a shot if I run a strong race. Right now, we (the Falcons’ 3200-meter relay team) want to get to states and see what we can do.”
“I think there’s more in him,” said Bare, who’s a master at getting the most out of his athletes. “I feel like he can get down below 9:30.
With a fire in his belly and no adult prodding, Ebersole trained like a maniac over the summer between his junior and senior years. He ran rain or shine and watched what he ate.
“I just set my mind to it,” said Ebersole, who earned a medal at the Lancaster-Lebanon Cross Country Championships in the fall and qualified for the PIAA cross country meet. “It was non-stop, all year. I just did what my coaches told me and lived a healthy lifestyle.”
“This summer, I put in about 400 miles,” Ebersole continued. “It was anywhere from a five-mile day to a 13-mile run. I was running every day. It was mostly because I kind of enjoyed it. It was something I wanted to do.
“He worked hard,” said Bare. “His leg speed on the last lap is impressive. And he’s got that mental toughness. He’s got a quiet confidence about him. His highs are not too high and his lows are not too low.”
After trying a couple of different sports in his youth, Ebersole went out for track and field during his sophomore year at Cedar Crest. He injured himself in that initial season of running, but continued to attend team events, like practice.
“When I first saw him I thought, ‘This boy has nice running form,'” said Bare of Ebersole. “He thought he was a sprinter. Everyody thinks they’re a sprinter. I thought, ‘Maybe he’ll buy into being a middle distance runner’. He was tough and dedicated, and he bought into what we were selling. He just wanted to experience some succes in a sport, and boy has he ever.”
“I used to be a wrestler,” said Ebersole, who also competed in football and soccer as a youth. “After I stopped doing that, I needed another sport to occupy my time. I thought I’d be pretty decent at running.
“Those other sports weren’t really for me,” Ebersole added. “I enjoyed them, but wouldn’t say I was good at them. I don’t want to sound overly confident, but the last few years (in running) have gone really well.”
There are few constants in sports, few things athletes can control. But improvement can be controlled, because it is directly related to hard work, determination and persistence.
“I like the fact that it’s all you,” said Ebersole of running. “How hard you can push yourself. There’s not a whole lot of skill inovlved. It’s how tough you are and how fit you are. When I first started in my sophomore year I had no previous experience, I was the slowest guy on the team, I was always finishing last on the team.”
“He tried a lot of sports growing up,” said Bare. “He just couldn’t find his niche.”
As his senior season and scholastic career wind down, Ebersole almost wishes he had started running earlier.
“I’m going to Penn State main campus, but I won’t be officially a part of the team,” said Ebersole of his future plans. “I’ve spoken to the (running) coaches, and they’ve been looking at my times. And I’m approaching the times they’re looking for. But no matter what, in some way, hopefully I can keep running and keep competing.”
And keep improving.