Less than 24 hours after both his boys and girls cross country teams won state championships, head coach Bryant Wright shared his thoughts on the feat.
Q: Four in a row on the guys side! That’s impressive. But with only one experienced runner back on the team this year, how in the world did you guys pull this off?
Wright: The young men from the JV squad knew that someone needed to take the place of those that graduated. They had determined in their minds that they would not be the team that would get second. During track season, I realized these boys were ready to do the training to take a shot at the title. They work together to become the best. More importantly, they believed in each other and trusted the process. However, nothing takes the place of hard work. That is what they did for a year waiting for their chance to run at the state meet.
Q: As the only returning varsity runner from last year, what did Max’s leadership mean to the team this year?
Wright: This year I set up a new type of leadership. I set it up so that four young men were in charge of about five runners. This seemed to work out, and many runners got more time with someone in a leadership role. However, Max is a leader in action and deed. He provided some information on what it was like to run at the state meet.
Q: Having that target on your back meet after meet…some folks would wilt under that pressure. Do you use that as a positive to motivate your boys?
Wright: We know that people want to beat us and even see us fail. We have to be ready every time we race…someone came to race that day just to beat us. We don’t dwell on this aspect all that much. We would rather focus on everyone giving 100 percent. If we get 100 percent from everyone on that day, we have succeeded.
Q. You won by 27 points…did the race develop the way you thought? Did the guys execute the plan the way you wanted? Explain the strategy a bit.
Wright: We wanted to have all our runners in the top 30 at the mile mark. If you are going to be all-state, you need to be in position to do well from the beginning…move up during the middle of the race, and then gut it out for the last 1000 meters. They did a decent job with executing the plan. They probably did get out a little fast, but I don’t think that affected most of their races. We knew that our biggest competition would be Warrensburg, and we just had to look for them during the race.
Q. On the girls side…did you think the girls had a shot to do this?
Wright: I told the girls that we would probably finish between 2-6 depending on how well they ran. But we had a small chance of winning this race. Sometimes, I guess a small chance is all a team needs. Sometimes you look at a race from just your point of view. That is all you have. Some of the other teams had some difficulties, and we just were fortunate to be able to come out on top.
Q. When during the season did you feel like this was a real possibility for the girls?
Wright: At the beginning of the season I thought we had a great shot. A month into the season, not so much. Things were not going as I had hoped, but we continued to follow the process. I felt through the whole season we still had a shot to get into the top four, but then we had to get out of the toughest district in Class 3. That is a fact, not an opinion with the girls teams from our district going 1-2 at state. Some of the teams at state beat us during the regular season. With a young team, ups and downs will come, and we had to spend some time figuring out who would be our top seven. Sometimes, with young teams, it takes 80 percent of the season before they are ready to really race as a team. It takes the experience of good varsity races to get you ready to race at the state meet.
Q: Did racing against Herky during the season help prepare you for the state meet?
Wright: Herky runs a different type of race than we do. They have two up front where our strength is depth. Racing Herky made us always know that if we did not run close to our best, we would get beat. That did help motivate us to race faster.
Q: With no seniors on the girls squad…where did the leadership come from?
Wright: I made leaders this year. I had five girls that we called leaders. They had four or five girls under them. The leaders would get with their groups and just help them understand what we were doing,,,or as a group they would lift weights together. The leaders would check in on their people and see how thing were going, and then the coaches could meet with the leaders and see how things were going…what potential dramas we needed to stop, or if someone had a great workout or concern. This was just a way that we could connect with the team through leaders and give leaders another stake in the program.
Q: It’s been fun watching Melissa Wolk develop over the course of the season. How pleased are you with what she’s been able to accomplish?
Wright: This has been a process that includes her freshmen and sophomore years. She is an amazingly hard worker. She now is beginning to understand and think like a runner. She is starting to believe in her capabilities. It has been fun. To set goals and see the improvement is a priceless endeavor. She has taken herself to another level and has brought many with her. I have the joy to see her have breakout practices and to witness a “wow” moment…that is Melissa Wolk.
Q: At the beginning of the season, Simon Ogle and Erika McIntyre did quite well while running for the JV teams. Now here they are racing on the varsity level at the state meet. Speak a little about their development.
Wright: Simon is a very talented athlete. More importantly, he shows up for the meets. He is a gamer. I thought he would play a factor in the end, and he did. He stepped up his practice at the later part of the season and started looking great. At state, he comes in as the second man on a state championship team.
Erika let me know that she wanted to be good early in the season. She is a hard worker, and has really adapted well to the workouts. I think winning early in the season gave her some great confidence about just how good she could be.
Q: Finally, James Ziesmer is the only athlete that ran at state that you’ll lose off both teams combined. And you have so many runners on JV and even in the 8th grade that continue to work hard to get better. It has to be encouraging to be able to reload for years to come.
Wright: The prospects look good, but you are only as good as you train on that day. We still have to get it done everyday if we are going to be successful. I hope that our athletes know that winning is special, but success is truly giving everything you have when the time comes for your teammates. I want the athletes to know that anyone can win once, but it takes character to keep winning, and that is what we should strive to do. To become the best we can be is our goal. If any person is willing to commit to excellence (not just in running)…but regardless of whether they have been a great runner in the past…we will succeed.