John Ziegler talks how he got to Men’s Cross Country captaincy and his goals for the future

Written By Antonio Rossetti, Co-Sports Editor

Many dream of becoming captain of the cross country team. Many strive for greatness, but fall short. Nevertheless, Point Park junior John Ziegler scratched and clawed his way to captaincy. Despite being captain, he sees himself as no different than any other member of the team and takes pride in seeing his teammates continue to improve.

Ziegler grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and graduated from Baldwin High School in 2019. There, Ziegler was involved in cross country, track & field and soccer. With Point Park being close to home and the opportunity to run for the Pioneers, Point Park University was an easy choice. Ziegler also sees Point Park as a launching pad for his life after college.

“Just the allure of the city, Pittsburgh has so many great facilities and things to do on a day-to-day basis,” said Ziegler. “For post-collegiate reasons, there’s so many opportunities when it comes to the workforce. I eventually want to get into law school, so just those kind of connections with businesses around the city, I think it was just a good starting point.”

Despite growing up close to the city, moving to Point Park was different for him.

“It was definitely a big change, having always lived in the suburbs.So having the hustle and the bustle of everyday life in the city was definitely a bit of a change,” Ziegler said. “Just having people really everywhere was both a welcomed and kind of jarring change.”

Ziegler adjusted to the change of scenery and began to prepare for his freshman cross country season.

Ziegler noted that there were many differences with running in college compared to high school.

“I definitely faced some changes. The coaches here definitely put more of an emphasis on cross country. For me, personally, in high school was more of a stay in shape kind of deal because I was also doing that during soccer, so running really wasn’t a major priority,” said Ziegler. “But now, the plan was to really do as well as we can during cross country to push a team to get towards nationals and just get immediate team success.”

In high school, Ziegler prioritized soccer over cross-country and track. Nevertheless, Ziegler adjusted and made running a priority in college. Ziegler was a midfielder, which requires endurance. This made it easier for Ziegler to adjust to the next level. In fact, he was a major contributor in the cross country team’s 2019 season.

Ziegler finished 30th in his first River States Conference (RSC) championship meet. He and six other runners on the Pioneers cross country team finished within the top 30. Although the runners had an impressive showing, the team fell just short of first place, finishing second out of 11 teams.

Ziegler and his team didn’t dwell on the second place finish. They used their competition and RSC rivals as motivation. During his 2020 sophomore season, Ziegler improved and had his most impressive races. Ziegler participated in his first 5K of the season at the Westmoreland Invitational. He finished in the top 10 for the first time in his career.

The team would finish second in three separate meets. Their second place finish in the RSC Championship qualified them for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ziegler finished 23rd overall and fourth on the team.

“It was a satisfying feeling, getting to Nationals because that was the goal, since we set foot on campus since my freshman year,” said Ziegler. “That was the goal for both the men’s and the women’s team to get there and we’re in a tough conference with West Virginia Tech and then even these past two years, you have a lot of schools coming up with younger teams.”

Despite the team finishing low in the ranks at the NAIA National Championship, the team was proud of their effort and battle to get into nationals. Ziegler said he enjoyed the opportunity at nationals with the team.

“To be able to get that opportunity last year was really fun because it’s not every day you get to say that you went to Iowa for spring break,” Ziegler said. “It’s just kind of a fun story to tell everyone that the work we’re putting in came to fruition and the results of.”

Ziegler said he is fond of his memories from traveling to Iowa, but the RSC Championship race was his most memorable.

“We ran it like a four pack, working off of each other, helping to push each other and then we kind of just looked at each other and it was like, ‘now we have to race,’” said Ziegler. “Everyone just kind of put their head down and just started passing people. It is really a surreal moment when we all knew that we had to put work in.”

Although his sophomore season for cross country was memorable, the track & field season only made things better. In early 2021, the Pioneers’ track & field team won the RSC Championship. Ziegler had a strong showing in the 800 meter. Ziegler, Doug Kostelansky, Deven Carter and Treven Carter helped the team achieve first place in the 4×800 meter relay.

“I would say we have more success when it comes to track and we take great pride in that,” said Ziegler. “Everyone gets excited to run a little bit faster because it’s a shorter distance. On the track you don’t have to deal with as many hills.”

Ziegler attributes his running progression and improvements to coaches Jim Spisak and Tim Creamer. For Ziegler’s junior season, he became the captain of the men’s cross country team. Ziegler was shocked that he achieved that honor.

“It was a little surprising. I was taking a nap in between my classes, and I woke up to the group me with like, 20 messages of people telling me, congrats,” said Ziegler. “At first, I was confused why the group chat was blowing up. Once I realized what it was, I was really appreciative that really everyone had my back.”

Although he is captain, and is now an upperclassman, Ziegler doesn’t consider himself any different than the rest of the team. He looks to encourage the team and loves seeing the team improve. He said he doesn’t believe he is wiser but loves being captain and watching the team continue to succeed.

“I am just naturally older than most of the people on the team but everyone knows what they’re doing and these young guys, they’re really talented and so any chance I can get I tried to lend a few pieces of advice here [and] there but it’s really them putting in the work and showing off their talents that’s loaning them success this season.”

The biggest perk as captain is seeing the team put in the work. He commends the team for not only finishing practice, but also hitting the weight room directly afterwards. He sees the improvement and it inspires him to do better. Ziegler has grown close to the team and takes advice from them too. Overall, Ziegler said he loves the family-like atmosphere the team has.

Ziegler’s motivation from the team carried into his junior cross country season. After an impressive performance at the Bethany Invitational, he took home the September athlete of the month.

Ziegler continued to be a key contributor to the team. In the RSC Championship, the team fell short in their quest to qualify for Nationals. However, the team is young and Ziegler looks forward to the next cross country season and the rest of the track & field season.

He said he is the teams’ “biggest cheerleader” and can’t wait to see what’s in store.

“We have so many young people, and they’re just overflowing with talent,” said Ziegler. “I’m so excited to see what the team holds and I’m just going to try and get out there and show them that I’m going to lay it all out on both the track and the course. Hopefully it inspires them.”

Ziegler’s pastime is running and he is exhilarated for the next season to come. However, Ziegler is also looking forward to life after Point Park.

“At the moment, I’m looking to get into law school and take the LSAT, ” Ziegler said, “See where that places me and hopefully get into either Duquesne or Pitt [University of Pittsburgh] law and just progress my academic, and then eventually, my professional career.”