Freshman athlete at De Smet Jesuit excels at two sports

Robert Miller photo, courtesy of De Smet

Ben Mueller put on his game uniform and headed out to represent De Smet Jesuit High School.

He had to check his schedule to make sure it was the right uniform, however.

This fall sports season, it could be a soccer or cross country uniform. Mueller is a rare athlete who is playing two high school sports in one season — and it's working out well, according to the freshman and his coaches, who were happy to work out an arrangement allowing him to excel in both sports.

Mueller attended a freshman conditioning summer camp for fall athletes. He intended to just play soccer. "We noticed right away the first time he ran that he was an exceptional runner," said Bryan Traughber, head coach of the De Smet varsity cross country team.

He was the fastest freshman runner that Traughber had seen in 17 years as cross country coach at De Smet. His mile time was comparable to varsity runners.

As the camp was ending, Traughber asked Mueller what he thought about the possibility of playing both sports. He and his parents liked the idea, so Traughber waited to see if Mueller would make the soccer team, then talked to the soccer coaches to work out a plan for the dual-sport athlete.

Mueller played CYC soccer at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester and played for the Scott Gallagher club. But he'd never run cross country until this year. "The races are pretty fun themselves, but definitely the feeling afterward — knowing that I gave it my all out there, feeling good about how I performed in the race — is the best part of it," he said.

Mueller, who plays on the sophomore soccer team, spends more time practicing and playing soccer, but when the schedule allows he takes part in cross country practices and varsity meets. On the first Saturday of October, Mueller ran a cross country meet in the morning and played soccer that afternoon.

The majority of soccer players could run cross country, but they wouldn't be as successful as Mueller, Traughber said. Mueller meets with the cross country coach every Monday, and they write out a schedule for his practices. Typically, Mueller goes to soccer practice when school ends, then joins the cross country team afterward, for about a half hour, running 2 or 3 miles with the group.

"He's a pretty talented kid," Traughber said. "He doesn't seem to be tired ever. Usually you're a pretty good cross-country runner when you don't ever get tired."

After his first two meets, only one runner on De Smet's team had faster times. In his first varsity meet, he finished 33rd out of about 200 runners, a time of 17:40. He was ranked about the 10th best freshman runner in the state, and he hadn't run on any easy courses, his coach explained.

Responsible and trustworthy, "you tell him to do something and he does it," Traughber said.

Mueller finishes both practices early enough to have time in the evening to do homework. "The last thing I want to do is get him burned out on soccer, cross country and school," Traughber said. "I don't want to overload him. And he is training (for running) on the soccer team. It's just a different type of training, but clearly it's pretty good training because he's able to run at a pretty high level."

Best of all, the coach said, Mueller's teammates are happy to have him on the team, with his skills and hard work that makes the team better.

Josh Klein, head coach of De Smet's varsity soccer team, said: "It's been a painless, easy transition as far as the coaches are concerned."

The reports to Klein from his assistant coaches are that Mueller is "above and beyond" in expectations for aerobic fitness. The coaches tell Klein that the freshman is "incredibly bright, coachable, courteous and acts a lot more mature than his age," Klein said. "What's more, he's a freshman playing on the sophomore soccer team. To hear the success he's having running on the varsity cross country team tells me we have someone special on our hands."

His soccer season ended Oct. 19, and the cross country districts were to begin Oct. 21.

Interviewed prior to the soccer season ending, Mueller acknowledged that "I'm pretty busy right now," but said "as long as I can manage my time well I can get everything done and still feel pretty good."

He scored a goal coming off the bench for the sophomore soccer team in his first game. "That made me feel part of the team and very excited about it," Mueller said. Another highlight was his first cross country meet, showing up without the proper shoes, yet performing well.

At De Smet, he said, "it's a brotherhood. There's something for everyone, too."

He sees his ability to do both sports as "a gift from God. I'm definitely relying on Him to help me stay stronger and as time goes on, keep performing. It's like one of the things we say at De Smet, that we do everything for the greater glory of God. It's one of the things I'm doing right now, working hard for that." 

>> Hockey in Finland

In late July, De Smet Jesuit High School 2010 graduate David Goodwin departed for Finland to begin his professional hockey career with the SM-Liiga team Saipa Oy of the Finnish Elite League. For Goodwin, playing professional hockey is a dream realized — and one he says would not have been possible without the support of the De Smet Jesuit family.

"De Smet allowed me to excel in areas where I have strengths, and supported me as I worked to reach my goals," he said. A key part of that support system was the campus ministry team, especially Mike Callahan and Goodwin's Kairos 64 co-leaders, with whom he keeps in touch on a regular basis. He also remains connected with his former De Smet coaches, including Corey Quinn '90. "I carry the core principles of the 'Grad at Grad' with me every day," he said, noting that he has especially embraced "Developing as a Leader" in the Ignatian tradition of service and collaboration. Most recently, he was an instructor at De Smet's Hockey Prospect Camp for middle school students. He also spent a week in the Philippines, where he helped lead a three-day hockey camp. The camp proceeds funded a leading charitable organization, PANDOO Foundation.

"I'm very fortunate to have the opportunities I've been given. I told the boys at camp that if they make a commitment to working hard, they will see the rewards of their efforts," Goodwin said.

Following his graduation from De Smet Jesuit, Goodwin played junior hockey, a requirement to secure recruitment by a Division I school. He joined Penn State's hockey team during the school's first year playing Division I hockey. The Nittany Lions won the Big 10 Tournament in 2017 for the first time in school history. Goodwin was a senior and captain of the team. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in Spanish and Economics.

The Finnish Elite League season runs through the end of April.

Source: De Smet Jesuit High School 

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