By Noah Rubin
It’s rare to see the kind of work ethic that Nate Verska and Ben Bergey have. The way they motivate each other to be great just isn’t something you see everyday.
Verska, a senior, and Bergey, a junior, have big goals for this season with South Forsyth's cross country team. They both want to run fast enough to get attention from colleges and continue their careers at the next level.
They also want to leave a legacy at the school and help the younger runners achieve their goals.
“Our team is super young,” Bergey said. “Nate’s really our only senior on the guys side, and we have a handful of juniors. So, just to see all the younger kids and their drive to get better that I had when I was younger is really cool. We hope to be like the seniors that I looked up to and build the team up like they did. South has had a historically good program here. We’re always in contention for things. We hope to keep that going.”
Verska mentioned some runners to watch out for over the next few years.
“Wyatt Longstreth and Ben Winn are two kids that have really put in a lot of work as freshmen already,” Verska said. “They’re guys that want to get better and have expressed that to me. Anyone who expresses that they want to get better, I want to be able to take under my wing, perpetuate them forward, and hope they can break our records when they’re seniors.”
The humbleness to want the younger runners to be better than they are is what makes the tandem so unique.
Bergey and Verska began their cross country careers late in elementary school. They joined Great Strides cross country, worked their way up, and fell in love with the sport.
However, they each had a different reason for joining.
Verska was a football player, but his parents signed him up because his brother was running with Great Strides. While Verska loved it after one meet, it seemed to take Bergey a little longer to develop a passion for the sport.
“I started because of my sister,” Bergey said. “She just entered high school and played soccer, but she wanted to start something new. She fell in love with cross country and gave me the idea that I should go out and try it myself. At the time, it was foreign to me. I never wanted to start running cross country. I always played baseball. I put two and two together when I realized that running the bases was my favorite part of baseball. Eventually, I just fell in love with running and left my dreams of baseball behind.”
That friendship that started at Great Strides has turned into a dynamic duo for South this season. Bergey and Verska have finished first and second, respectively, at the team’s first two meets of the season.
Bergey ran a 16:05 two weeks ago at the Pickens Preview to open the season, then won the North Georgia Championships on Saturday with a 15:47.
Verska finished right behind Bergey in both races, running a 16:09 at the Pickens Preview and an excruciatingly close 15:48 at the North Georgia Championships.
The two runners push each other into dominating at meets. Despite constantly competing against each other, it’s all love between them.
“Honestly, we’re both [friends and competitors],” Verska said. “I’d say, speaking for myself, we push each other so much, but at the end of the day, we don’t have any hate towards each other. We really do push each other. If one of us starts to make a gap, the other feels the need to keep up.”
They’re always running together. Whether it’s during meets, practice, or over the summer when they just want to get a little extra work in.
“We’re obviously friends,” Bergey said. “Outside, we get along really well. We do every workout together. When it comes to race day, you’re going to try to race the best that you can. Between the two of us, it’s nice to have someone to train with all the time. You can mark where they are in the race, and you know, ‘I put in just as much work as he did. He put in just as much work as I did. We should be pretty close to each other.’”
They’re hoping that carries into the state championship meet this season. During last season’s state championship, Bergey didn’t have the same goals as he does now. Verska, on the other hand, had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish.
However, it wasn’t easy.
“Last season’s state meet was truly a challenge,” Verska admitted. “Probably the most challenging cross country race I’ve had in my high school career. I remember being stuck in 11th, and my goal going into the race was to be top ten. Being caught in 11th the whole race, I had to mentally deal with that and the hills of the Carrollton course. I was able to mentally get past not being in the best position two miles in, and I was able to secure ninth.”
Between last cross country season and this one, the duo had an excellent track season. Both runners qualified individually for the Class 7A state meet, with Bergey finishing 15th in the 3200 and Verska taking 15th in the 1600.
That success has carried over into the cross country season and helped them truly excel.
“I was a little underwhelmed with how I did last season,” Bergey said. “I was coming off an injury from my freshman year. Obviously the coronavirus changed a lot with how we trained. A lot of aspects had changed, and I just wanted to hit the reset button going into track season. I’m really glad I did. I had the best offseason I’ve ever had last winter. I went into track season and had a great season. I did everything I could do. That motivated me even more to step up during cross country and do my best.”
The two have similar individual goals for the season. Verska wants to run a sub-15:10 in the 5K and finish top three in the state, and Bergey agrees that he wants to do the same thing, which makes perfect sense that they want to place together at the top of the state championship.
After being so close over the past year, why wouldn’t it continue into the state meet?
For now, they’re not focused on that. They both acknowledged that it’s a conversation that may come up as the state meet approaches. Until then, they’re just taking it one meet, one practice, and one day at a time.