Whittell cross country doesn’t stop at meeting goals
Whittell High cross country coach Anthony Davis is careful to distinguish his team’s season-long mission from a mere goal.
“It’s not a goal: It’s a mission,” Davis said of his team’s quest to run for the championship of Nevada’s 3A division II. “When you set goals, goals can be reached and goals can not be reached. When you’re on a mission, that means you will not stop until that mission is completed. And we’re on a mission.”
With the talent Davis’ Warriors bring to the course, it looks like the mission to win the division title could be mission: possible. With only one senior on a roster that boasts a wealth of national-level runners, the Warriors could be solid through the division and state meets, and beyond. But a team on a mission is never a bad pick for a division champion.
“Usually, if Anthony has a mission, usually it happens,” said Nichole Wasson, the only senior on Whittell’s roster.
Davis’ strategy of targeting certain races for the team’s best performance is atypical, even for cross country. So is the team’s attitude toward the school’s final season in the 3A class before it moves down to 2A next year. The Warriors aren’t packing it in this year and waiting for better days. They want to leave 3A with a definite impression.
“It is my belief that we need to let people know you can’t base all our athletic programs off one sport,” Davis said.
“We’re saying to ourselves, ‘Are we really going to feel we’ve accomplished our goal by dropping down to 2A and beating up on these kids who don’t train like we do?'” he said. “We train to be the best, and that’s what we’re going for. We want to say we’re the best in the state for 2A, but you can also look at our record in the 3A and 4A meets and say we’re very competitive.”
A number of athletes who Davis calls “true runners” gives Whittell the personnel it needs to meet its goals. Chad Gerken, a sophomore who placed 10th at the 3A state meet as a freshman, returns to lead the boys. Gerken is a mountain biker, which helps keep him in running form in the off-season.
“I think everybody can see the goal is there if we work, so everybody is planning on working hard to achieve the goal,” Gerken said. “I think our chances are good. We have a few really fast guys, and work hard.”
Behind Gerken, sophomore Ben Johnson, who Davis said didn’t run well at the state meet, brings a wealth of national-level experience to the second spot. Davis anticipates Johnson will benefit from being a member of a solid team.
Chris Arballo, a sophomore, returns to the team after missing qualifying for state by just one spot last season. Eric Van Cleempt, a junior who came to cross country from the football team last season, will fill in the fourth or fifth spot on the team, while two freshmen also wil compete: Jarret Guajardo has practiced very well since the team started hitting the trails Aug. 16, and Daniel Wines brings more junior Olympic background to the mix.
“They’re running well,” Gerken said of the team’s younger runners. “They should be really strong for the season once they make the transition up to the more competitive high school running, so they’re doing really great.”
In contrast to the young boys team, a senior returns to lead the girls. Wasson qualified for state last year as an individual, with one of the top five times among runners whose teams didn’t make it. Wasson said she knows what to expect from training, and has a good idea how to get back to state. She joins another state-meet veteran, junior Arlyle Shaw.
The girls also have a solid future in some of the team’s young runners. Ingrid Mazano had a strong first year, and is running within 10 seconds of her fastest time last season. Freshman Sarah Wasson will spend her first year of cross country on the same team as sister Nichole.
The team is mixing two-a-day training runs into its schedule throughout September, with 6:30 a.m. runs two times a week. Whittell has the talent, and Davis is counting on desire to pull his athletes through the grueling training schedule and the meets.
The competitive schedule starts Friday with the Galena Invitational, where runners compete within their own age class, rather than against the entire varsity and junior varsity.
“We’ll hopefully do somewhat good,” Gerken said. “It’s not a big race for us. Right now, we’re training really hard and just training through the race.”
The meet that stands out from the regular-season schedule is the Sept. 10 trip to Reed, the site of the division championship. Whittell’s goal – or mission – is to be running its best at the end of the season and bring home the division title at the end of October.. Whether Whittell improves on last year’s performance comes down to what’s inside the runners. Davis said he can only give the athletes the tools to run the races:
“Most of it’s going to come from the motivation of our athletes and what they want,” he said.
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