Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
August 20, 2015
There’s two ways to gear for the high school cross-country season.
Some coaches train their runners to be as fast as they can be from day one and then hold onto that training for 10 weeks of the regular season and postseason.
Other coaches prefer to train their runners to be as strong as they can be from day one but make progress and improve every week to try to be in their best shape at the end of the season.
“And I think we fall under the second half of that,” Kenston head boys coach Chris Ickes said.
“Our goal is always to come out of the summer as strong and as healthy as we can be, and then let’s try to progress each week and let’s take off three seconds here and five seconds there and 10 seconds here and just improve by small percentages as the season goes on,” he said.
Kicking off their 2015 campaign at the fourth annual Ohio High School Athletic Association preseason invitational on Saturday at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron, just east of Columbus, the Bomber harriers got to preview the state championship course – a 5-kilometer route they plan to run in November, without a doubt.
No other OHSAA-sanctioned meets are allowed until the season officially begins Aug. 24.
“Our goal was, it’s a hard training week, we’re going to go down there, we’re going to have some fun, we’re going to preview the state course, learn a little bit about ourselves and just really see what happens,” Ickes said. “And I thought the team performed very well. They exceeded my expectations on where they’re at.”
Among 22 varsity teams and 208 runners in their race section, the Bombers took fourth with a 12-17-27-32-36 finish among their top five runners, who averaged 17:30 with a 49.8-second spread.
Those harriers included: senior Tyler Cooper, 17:03.8; sophomore Sam Markel, 17:17.4; junior Max Fay, 17:35.0; senior Drew Sanders, 17:39.7; and freshman Jakob McConnell, 17:53.6.
“It’s his first 5-k in a high school race,” coach Ickes said of McConnell. “So he started a little conservatively and perhaps a little too conservatively. He really picked off probably 30 or 40 people in the second half of the race, and he ran a 17:54, I believe, which is an excellent time for his first race. I think he’ll be somebody you’ll be hearing about for the next four years.”
Bomber frontrunner Cooper, meanwhile, ran 2.6 seconds faster than his 2014 district time, and Markel was 0.6 second under his district mark.
Picking up where they left off is a good sign of the work they put in, Ickes said.
“I think that’s always a goal to try and make sure that we don’t lose much between seasons,” the coach said. “And these guys have done all the little things – the strength work, the nutrition, the rest, the stretching – all the little things to make sure they’re ready, but also they’ve improved their volume to our recommended level. They’ve put in more miles than they’ve done in the past, but they’re going out there and running in a smart way.”
Just heating up, Sanders and Fay both have the ability to be Kenston’s frontrunner in any given race, Ickes said.
During the Chagrin Valley Conference meet last season, Sanders led the Bombers in 16:32.5, while Fay was Kenston’ No. 3 runner in 16:48.87.
“Drew is going to have much better days than he had (on Saturday), and he’s in excellent shape. So I can’t wait to see what it is that he does,” Ickes said.
“And I think, on any given day, Max can be our No. 1 to our No. 5,” the coach said. “He just has a tendency to show up big in important races. And I think that’ll also be a hallmark to our team. All these guys seem to be gamers, high performers whenever the chips are down.”
Also competing on Saturday for the Bombers were: senior Kevin Robinson, 17:54.5; junior Evan Sanders, 18:08.9; junior Chris Smith, 18:08.2; sophomore Will Grendell, 18:48.6; and junior Bill Fleming, 19.03.8.
With 10 guys having the ability to break the 17-minute barrier this season, the Bombers need to consider being more of a pack team, Ickes said.
“Maybe we have to sacrifice some performances early on just to start developing race tactics as a team,” he said. “If we can get our guys to realize, ‘OK, we’re all pretty similar. Let’s stay together for two or 2 1/2 miles, and then let’s see who can outsprint the other person to the end,’ I think that’ll work out pretty well for our team. But that’s not to say we won’t develop a frontrunner or two.”
While the Bombers finished fifth as a team during the 2014 Trumbull District meet – missing out on regionals by one spot – they returned their six fastest runners this season.
Had the Bombers competed in the Goodyear, Lakeland or Lorain districts, they would have finished first or second as a team and moved on. Instead, only Cooper advanced as an individual.
“I think one of the best things that could have happened was this team not making the regional meet last year,” Ickes said about the extra motivation. “Our district is stacked, but we embrace that.”
The whole team still went down to regionals to cheer on Cooper as an individual, he said.
“After the race at regionals, we got together at the regional course, within three minutes of the race ending, and said, ‘Look it. Here’s what the top 15 times were. Every single one of you guys can be here by this time next year,’” Ickes said. “And we started marking this season’s goals the minute last season ended.”
Two days before Saturday’s OHSAA preseason race, the Kenston boys cross-country team was recognized in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches preseason poll as the No. 13-ranked Division I team in the state.
Other Cleveland-area teams included in the poll were No. 1 St. Ignatius, No. 8 Medina and No. 12 Hudson.
With that in mind, qualifying for regionals isn’t the Bombers’ goal this year, Ickes said.
“We’re a state team,” he said. “We have the talents. We have the desire. Now we just have to make it happen throughout the regular season.
“And we had a lot of really good races (on Saturday). What we were really checking was not necessarily times, but how well did they compete? Did they move well within their pack? Did they try to go up and get another pack? Did they kick at the end? And all of those indicators were very positive.”