From the Bluegrass to the Pacific Northwest

12-08-08

From the Bluegrass to the Pacific Northwest…..

 

Nike Cross Nationals Blog 2008

Entry #3

 

By Mark Rowe

Head XC and Track Coach at Green County High School

 

            By now, I am sure that you all have seen the results from Saturday....the favorites, and everyone in the race, put on quite a show at the 2008 edition of the Nike Cross Nationals. Manlius XC Club (Fayetteville-Manlius HS) absolutely dominated the girl’s field and won their 3rd straight NXN Championship with an eye-popping team score of 66 points.  The team race was nearly over 1k into the race with Manlius going to the front early (sticking to the race plan) and having their top three runners bunched into the top six of the field.  At that point, most coaches, and even casual observers, knew that the team race was for 2nd.  This reasoning stemmed from the fact that Manlius XC is just that good and in the two previous championships wins, this same strategy worked to perfection.  The runner-up team was Santa Clarita XC Club (Saugus HS) from CA with a score of 135.  Individually, sophomore Chelsey Sveinnson, a South individual qualifier from Greenhills, TX, ran smart and controlled to pull away in the last half the race running a course-record 17:26.9. 

I attempted to interview John Aris, Manlius XC Club head coach, before the race on Friday night and he respectfully, and politely, declined stating that it is a team practice for the athletes, and coaches, that they do no interviews until after the race.  Whether this is a common practice back home in New York or not, this showed me that they meant business at this meet.  Saturday night, I ran into him in the lobby of the Embassy Suites...leaving what was the commotion and utter chaos of the athlete dance...I smiled and asked him if he was up to talking yet.  A jubilant smile came across his face and he agreed.  Aris is the son of Bill Aris, the head coach at Fayetteville-Manlius High School.  He works as an assistant to his dad during the season and the roles reverse come NXN time.  While most may see a team such as Fayetteville-Manlius and assume that the squad is very large, I was surprised to learn that the boys and girls teams each have a roster of 21 runners.  The race plan, like I mentioned earlier, was to go out strong and get to the front.  Aris said the girls were very confient coming in and knew that they had the fitness to sustain the quick pace early.  However, their 3rd girl at last weekend’s NXN New York regional (Molly Malone) came down with a sickness on Saturday morning, and didn't even tell all of her teammates about her ailment for fear they would be worried.  After all, isn’t overcoming adversity often the name of the game in the sport of cross-country whether it comes in the form of weather, sickness or even a challenging course?  Malone finished the race as the 5th girl on the stellar Stotan squad and helped clinch the team title for the team.

Speaking of the Stotan’s, (the nickname given to Manlius XC), I inquired with Coach Aris to find out just what is the Stotan philosophy all about.  It actually dates back to the coaching philosophy of the legendary Percy Cerutty and is a mix between the stoic way of thinking and the Spartan way of life. 

“On our team, the process is the goal….the daily grind is year round and it becomes a way of life,” stated Aris.  “The Spartans were the most savage and non-relenting people ever and that’s what we try to emulate when we run each day.”

            Aris also touched on the other half of the word “Stotan”, “stoic”, by saying that they try to keep everything balanced by living a clean and simple life. They willfully embrace the success they have achieved, but not by being loud or obnoxious about it.  He reminded me of the biblical principle that the “pride cometh before the fall.”  I was impressed with the demeanor and quiet confidence of Coach Aris and equally impressed with the guts and courage of his athletes…class acts in every sense of the word and I have a feeling we will hear from them again, with their legs doing all the talking, next fall and many thereafter.

The boy’s race was quite the opposite of the girls.  North Spokane XC Club (North Spokane HS) entered the race ranked #1 in America.  However, much like the SEC Championship on Saturday, just because you are ranked first doesn't mean you are the favorite!  Enter Elmhurst XC Club (York Community HS).  After losing their state meet by a mere one point to Naperville North (Naperville XC Club), they responded in a huge way to win the NXN Southeast meet by 38. The team that was at one point ranked only 3rd in the state of Illinois were now ranked 3rd in America going into the NXN Championships. These individuals not only know pressure, but know how to handle it as well.  Winning 27 Illinois state titles will teach you those types of things.  As the week wore on, the pressure increased for both squads.  You could see it in the eyes of the Elmhurst guy's on Friday.  As athletes from all over America were hanging out, playing ping pong, X-Box 360, and joking around at the spacious Tiger Woods Center on the Nike Campus, three or four Elmhurst runners sat in the floor in a corner and kept to themselves:  a couple napping, a couple reflecting and no one talking. 

The boy’s race went out in a mad dash for the first 800m with fireworks going off in sequence to where the leaders were at during the first 100m from the starting line….quite a majestic sight being that you could even see Mt. Hood in the distance from Portland Meadows Race Track.  If this wasn’t cross-country heaven - on an unusually warm day, with the best teams and individuals in America vying for the National Championship, I don’t know what is. 

True to form, Elmhurst stayed back and ran smart, but by 3k they had a slight lead and lead by 40 points (raw score), through 4k.  Then things got very interesting.  North Spokane, running very well early, appeared to have dropped back significantly at 4k.  Come to find out later, one of the chips had fallen off of the shoe of one of their scoring runners, thus resulting in it appearing North Spokane was not a factor in the team race.  Elmhurst continued to courageously lead the race with 600-800 meters to go, but North Spokane wasn’t done yet.  Coaches always say the race doesn’t end till you cross the finish line and this was a prime example.  It was reported after the race that North Spokane’s 5th man, Alex Avilla, passed 20 runners in the last 100 meters (in the biggest meet of his life), to seal the deal for his team.  Pure guts!  The individual honors on the day went to Woodlands XC Club’s senior ace Reed Conner.  Running excellent splits (4:42/9:38) over the fast and dry course, he kicked away from his pursuers in the last 200m to win the crown in a course-record of 15:14. Combine his win with the 4th place finish of his team and retiring Coach Dan Green was all smiles at the awards ceremony. 

After the race, most people thought Elmhurst had won their second NXN title in 5 years.  I made my way to the finish area, found the Long Green Line, many parents and supporters and watched at a distance at what was going to happen next.  With a tradition and history unparalleled by any high school, regardless of sport, in the country, I wanted for an instant to see a York Dukes celebration with my own eyes.  I had spent the week serving alongside York assistant Jim Hedman (R.I.M. for the Midwest) and knew first-hand what this win would mean for him.  He graduated from York in the early 1970’s and ran for Coach Joe Newton.  Now, he has two sons that are in the program and he came back a few years ago to work with the team.  Coach Newton was unable to make the trip and it was not an uncommon sight to see Jim on his cell phone a couple of times per day talking to the legendary figure. 

I spotted Elmhurst club coach Charlie Kern in the mass of people and it was evident that, while confident, he had a realistic mindset that nothing was over till it was over.  He caught me in out of the corner of his eye and gave me a little half-fist pump…think Tiger Woods, but not as aggressive…and knew that win or lose, he was proud as one could be of his men. 

After about 10 minutes, it was time for the verdict. The meet directors intentially do not reveal team scores until the awards are presented, announcing the top 10 individuals and top 4 teams, by alphabetical order, when they call them to the awards stand.  This was the moment of truth.  Woodlands XC Club and Naperville XC Club received the 4th and 3rd place trophies.  And then there were two…

Both North Spokane and Elmhurst huddled within their teams, arms around each other…literally 3 feet apart from one other.  There were cameras flashing and parent’s praying.  My mind drifted to three weeks prior at the Kentucky State Championships and the 3A boy’s awards.  I secretly hoped that the result would be the same for Elmhurst as it was for Daviess County.  It wasn’t to be….Elmhurst, even to the surprise of announcer Ian Brooks, finished as runner-up and North Spokane defied the odds, coming in as the top ranked team and leaving as the champs.  While somewhat dejected, the Men of York acted in a manner that would make anyone even remotely associated with the school, very proud.  I pictured Joe Newton sitting at home, going absolutely crazy, waiting for the call about the outcome then crying tears of joy at the effort of yet another group of his young men…on the day that it mattered the most.

I cautiously wondered over to the Elmhurst tent about 5 minutes after the ceremony.  It was located right across from the individual qualifier’s tent.  I saw Coach Kern and he told me probably the most poignant quote I have heard in quite sometime.  When asked about his thoughts, he said simply, “When young men do the best they can possibly do, what more is there?”  Indeed.  Second in the state of Illinois and 2nd in the country…not a bad season of work….

I could probably go on with this for a couple more pages…if you want more stories and accounts, including a breakdown of the Open Races (Kenyans “tempo” ran to an easy victory) just ask!  I will leave you with this:  In my opinion, the 2008 Nike Cross Nationals was one of the most historic days in high school sports.  For the first time ever, individuals and teams from around the country met on the same day, at the same time, and raced their hearts out.  Only two teams and two individuals were crowned champions, but honestly, every young person that raced left knowing that they had been a part of something very special.

 

I want to think my good friend Daniel Johnson and my amazing fiance’ Sam Swihart for the rides to and from the airport!  Sam, if you are reading this, my next “big trip” will be down the aisle on December 27th!

 

Keep Running!

 

Mark

 

12-05-08

From the Bluegrass to the Pacific Northwest…..

 

Nike Cross Nationals Blog 2008

 

 

By Mark Rowe

Head XC and Track Coach at Green County High School

 

            Greetings from Oregon!  Last night when I wrote this, I was sitting in the balcony at the Tiger Woods Center on the campus of Nike Headquarters.  Tonight, I am lounged in a chair in the lobby of the Embassy Suites in Tigard, Oregon right outside of Portland.   This is the meet headquarters.  To my left sits Bernard Lagat, the 2nd fastest 1500m runner in history (3:26), Abdi Abdiranhman (13:13 5k and 27:16 10k personal bests) and Chris Solinksky (13:12 5k best)  Lagat was the double gold medalist in the World Championships in Osaka, Japan and “Abdi” was the US Olympic Trials 1500m champion.  I actually just had to inquire with Bernard just where the World Championships were held at….I was thinking Helsinki.  I had spoken to him briefly yesterday and he is very polite, well spoken and a great ambassador for our sport.

            Tomorrow is the highlight of the weekend:  The 2008 NXN Championships.  In two hours time, two teams and two will etch their name in the record books forever and be the only individuals this year that can lay the claim of being the National Champions.  I get goosebumps and my eyes tear up just thinking about what will occur…and the effort these young men and women will give all for the sake of their teams and themselves.  For the record, the meet will be broadcast live on www.runnerspace.com starting at 1:30pm with the girls race and 3pm for the boys race.  All times I mentioned have been translated to eastern time zone.  Be sure to check it out!  You will love it…

            An interesting aspect of the meet tomorrow is the Open Race in the morning.  The race is headlined by two boys and girls teams from Kenya…St. Patrick’s Boy’s School and Iten School.  St. Patrick Boy’s School enters the race having the most Olympians from a single high school in history.  I asked their coach this morning just who the best runner in their history was and he wasn’t even sure how to respond.  Finally, he said he would have to choose Wilson Kipketer, the World Record Holder in the 800m (1:41 in 1997).  These Kenyan young men and women are an awesome story not just because a couple of the boys boast 5k bests in the low 14 minute range.  Overcoming a 24 hour flight, they will race tomorrow after coming to America for the first time.  Most have never been too far outside of their home villages and that is not a stretch to say.  Talk about culture shock!  Nike has made every effort to treat these kids in a manner the same as the American kids…if not better.  Likewise, the American kids have embraced the Kenyans.  Today at the Tiger Woods Center, upon glancing around the room, I saw several of the Kenyans and Americans playing ping pong, pool, video games or just talking and laughing like they had known each other their entire lives…all made possible by a sport that both cultures can relate to, and by the tireless effort of  Josh Rowe, A.J. Holzherr and the fine people at Nike.

            In a few hours, the fireworks will begin and the race will finally be run.  The battle lines have been drawn and the teams that can overcome a busy, yet unforgettable, weekend thus far will go home with the biggest prize in high school sports. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a detailed update and possibly quotes from the winning teams and individuals.  Check out the Runnerspace webcast as well!!!!

 

 

Keep Running…..

Mark

 

 

12-04-08

From the Bluegrass to the Pacific Northwest…..

 

Nike Cross Nationals Blog 2008

 

 

By Mark Rowe

Head XC and Track Coach at Green County High School

 

Greetings from Oregon!  As I write this, I am sitting on a balcony at the Nike Headquarters (Tiger Woods Center) in Beaverton, Oregon watching the Opening Ceremonies of the 5th Annual Nike Cross Nationals.  Below me are the top 44 high school teams and 90 individuals in the United States.  Right now, most of joking around while watching homemade videos that each team and individual that qualified submitted for viewing at the Opening Ceremonies.  However, on Saturday morning at 1:30pm and 3:00pm EST, these same smiling faces will be vying for the most coveted prize in high school athletics:  The National Championship.

            As many of you may know, I served as the Kentucky Ambassador for the Nike Southeast Region this cross-country season.  In a nutshell, I submitted many of your names to the NXN Southeast meet director each Monday morning highlighting many excellent performances the previous weekends.  About a month ago, I received a phone call (or an early Christmas present) asking if I would be willing to come to Oregon in the capacity of the Regional Individual Manager (RIM).  While out here, I am supervising the ten individual boys and girls from the Southeast Region that qualified for the meet last weekend down in Raleigh, NC.

                        I arrived yesterday after flying from Louisville to Chicago and into Portland.  After a two hour meeting from 8pm-10pm which felt like 11pm-1pm coming from the eastern time zone, I caught some sleep and got up this morning at 5am to get a run in.  Breakfast for the staff was at 6am and we left for the airport at 7am to begin the long process of picking up the nation’s best harriers to take them back to the hotel.  The long day that was yesterday was soon forgotten as I watched what seemed an endless stream of wide-eyed runners, some having flown for the first time, arrive to culminate a season’s worth of hard work.

            The centerpiece of the weekend, are the activities that take place during the day at the Nike Headquarters.  For those that have never been, the Nike Headquarters is one of the most amazing venues I have ever seen.  Here’s a breakdown:

 

-15-20 very large office buildings each named after a famous Nike athlete (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and yes, Bill Bowerman).  Each building has a view of a huge lake, big enough to jet ski in (though I wouldn’t advise it this time of year).

-A 400-meter state of the art track with trees in the infield.  After having to hitch a ride with a generous Nike employee to find the spot, I encountered a few individuals doing strides, drills and typical pre-meet activities.  On the backstretch, I saw a team in green doing what appeared to be a pretty strenuous workout and thought for a moment it may have been some of the professional runners that are here this weekend.  Not so much.  The team was the Elmhurst XC Club, better known as York High School from Illinois.  They enter the Championships as the third ranked team in America.  Following a devastating one-point loss at their State Championships to Naperville North (Naperville XC Club), they won their NXN Midwest Regional by nearly 40 points.  The Long Green Line arrived in Portland today wearing suits and had the most focused look on their faces…very uncommon for four days before a meet, but commonplace for a team out here on a Mission. Their atypical “Thursday shake-out” workout is three 400m repeats following by six 110m strides.  Each 400 was run between 58 to 62 seconds and the team looked like they were jogging.  Speaking with Charlie Kern, acting club coach, former assistant at York and University of Kentucky distance runner, he spoke highly of the team and their mindset going into this weekend.

            On the girls’ side, Manilus XC Club (Fayette Manilus High School), enters the meet as the top-ranked team in the country, as well as the two-time defending NXN champions.  Bill Aris, coach of Manilus, takes an aggressive training approach and it is evident talking to him today that his girls are tough both mentally and physically.  His team is known as the Stotans, a mix between “Stoic” and “Spartan” mindsets and approaches to life itself. 

            I look forward to being the “eyes of Kentucky” in Portland this weekend….stay tuned for more updates!

 

Comments

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  • mschardein / 6 Years Ago
    Remember Mark, you have to come back.
  • DaleJr / 6 Years Ago
    I guess it was time to get back. The rain moved in Saturday night....
  • DaleJr / 6 Years Ago
    A couple of things that weren't accurate in my final blog:
    John Aris is the assistant coach at F-M year-round. His dad, Bill, is the head coach. The roles do not reverse during the NXN series.
  • RACE2WIN / 6 Years Ago
    Mark,

    Your explanation of the championship events and atmosphere surrounding them was right on. As coaches, it was very evident to us that the athletes felt like they were in the land of "OZ". It was enjoyable spending time with you and David Christian during the down time. Additionally, it was fun and encouraging to run into and talk training with the likes of Vinnie Lanana, Jerry Schumacher, and Abdi "The Black Cactus".

    It was great catching up. You are a dear friend.

    Look forward to seeing you "close" down the "final stetch" we call the "aisle"!

    Highest Regards,

    Dan Chelstrom
    Associate Head Coach, Southern Oregon U
    2008 NAIA Men's National Championships 4th Place