McCulloch keeps the family's Portage cross country legacy running strong
PORTAGE -- When Morgan McCulloch first started running, her dad Vince's stories of the glory days of Portage cross country were something she basically just tolerated.
"Oh boy," the Indians senior said. "I've heard about them for a while now. In middle school, when I was just going through it, it's like, oh, another story. He talked about how they practiced, how they raced, all the strategies they have. He still talks about (coach Bill) Wilke. He has all his (scrapbooks) out. I think my freshman year, when I realized running was something I wanted to do, I listened to the stories. It became meaningful. They paid off in the end."
Portage's Morgan McCulloch will run in her third state cross country meet Saturday. Her dad Vince ran in three when he was at Portage, helping the Indians to top-three finishes each season, and her mom Melissa ran for Portage.
A 1991 Portage graduate, McCulloch ran in three state meets, finishing 52nd as a sophomore, 47th as a junior and 40th as a senior. He was a part of one state runner-up team (1988) and two that made the podium, placing third (1989, 1990). McCulloch's mom Melissa (Teets) was on the 12-person roster for Portage's 1988 state runner-up as both teams took second that year.
"I'm glad that his name is still going with me," Morgan said. "My sister (Madison) did soccer, so he was really hoping for another runner. He goes out daily and runs. He does races. He's done like seven marathons. He pushes me to run faster, (telling me) you have more in you. (My mom) doesn't really talk about it. She's never really talked about being on a state runner-up team. She's just in the middle of the conversation. She'll have input, but just not as deep as his."
When McCulloch took up the sport in middle school, she was also doing soccer. Early on, it seemed like she might stick to the latter, but running grew on her as she progressed.
"Sixth grade, I hated it. The first day, I wanted to quit," McCulloch said. "I said, mom, I'm not coming back. She was like, don't tell (your dad). In seventh grade, I began applying myself more. As I was getting better, I was getting more into it. Once I hit eighth grade, I was like, I really want to do this in high school. I started running with them in high school. I was going to travel soccer, too. I was always late for practice because of cross, so had to pick one. My mom was more soccer, my dad was more running. It came down to whichever I felt was the better choice for me."
Despite the injuries that have come with it, stress fractures in both legs and an entrapped nerve in her shin that she's treating with cortisone shots until after the season, McCulloch affirms she made the right choice. She'll run in her third state meet Saturday in Terre Haute, having qualified twice individually and with the team last year.
"She's had a nice career," coach Jay White said. "She really steps up in the month of October. It's something we talk about a lot in our program."
White graduated several years earlier than Vince McCulloch, but is a part of the same Portage/Wilke cross country tradition.
"I think (Vince) went to Fegely and I was still coaching a Willowcreek with Mike Prow," White said. "I've had a lot of legacies. We've goy some coming up in middle school. Her parents outstanding. They bend over backwards to help us out. They've donated masks, hand sanitizer. Mom makes up snack bags. They're at every meet. They're awesome, just real supportive."
Morgan has been a top four runner throughout her career and top two since she was a sophomore, despite the recurring stress fractures.
"It's made it really uncomfortable, but it didn't really slow me down too much," she said. "I feel like I've gone up. Sophomore year, I was pretty comfortable where I was at. Last year, I went up, and this year, I just kept going in an upward direction. Everyone's in pain. There are probably other people out there in more pain."
White was especially impressed with McCulloch's semistate, where she finished 11th.
"I think she had to run a little better than what she had been, and her semistate was incredible," he said. "I saw how well she got out, I told her knew she was going to make it at that point because knew she wasn't going to back off the pace. Every time I saw her, she was stalking. Her times have been coming down each week since the New Prairie Invite. She's taken chunks of time off. The last time she over 20 (minutes) was the invite, and it was 20 (exactly)."
Given the challenging circumstances of managing sports in the COVID-19 season, White is happy just to be at this point and have a runner going to state.
"I'm proud, for what they've had to go through," he said. "We couldn't practice until August third. Some did what they were supposed to do, some didn't, some were kind of in the middle. I took us a while to get in shape. We had virtual school, they've been wearing masks, staying away from people, doing all the right things. I think I've spent more time talking about those type of things than actual training and racing. To get to the point, you have to do all of this stuff right. It's gone a lot better than I thought. Our sport can social distance a lot better. They were just social distancing at times when I didn't want them to be social distancing. I wanted them to be closer (in races)."
McCulloch placed 52nd at state as a sophomore and 80th last year.
"I try not to analyze a race ahead of time too much. I'm a really big over-thinker," she said. "I just want to get close to my (personal best). It's last chance to break (19:09 at the 2019 semistate), so I want to get close to it if I can. I think it will hit me Saturday after I'm done, knowing it's my last race in high school. It will feel different than if I was a junior or sophomore. It's like it's an end to something."
A 3.9 student, McCulloch plans to go into physical therapy in college, given her personal experiences with it. She'll have some visits in the coming weeks, after which she'll decide if she wants to run at the next level.
"Not that I liked what they were doing to me, but it seemed like something I would want to do when I was older," McCulloch said of her career choice. "Even if I don't (run in college), I won't stop. I don't see myself not running. I'll still be going on runs just to run. It relieves a lot of stress, especially if you have a bad day."