Oak Ridge Cross Country has a legacy of winning at the state level.
“I plan to be at that level every year,” Head Coach Allen Etheridge said. “I go into every year thinking that we may have a shot at winning.”
His teams have backed that up with girls’ state titles in 2007, 2009, and 2010, and boys’ titles in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
But the reality is that even a great program cannot win every year. According to Coach Etheridge, the cross country team has not had a shot the past couple years, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t tried to get there. A few years ago, Etheridge and his coaching staff began to implement a new strength and mechanics program from information they have learned from clinics, conferences, and seminars to make the team stronger and more ready to race. This program is now starting to pay off.
“If you want to be good, you have to commit to working like this almost every day of the year every year,” said Etheridge, describing the ongoing process to perfect his team’s training plan. “You don’t just show up and think somebody is going to hand you a trophy just because it’s your turn.”
The girls’ team returns quite a few very talented, hardworking girls who have the potential to get back to the front of the pack.
“Maddie Self has separated herself at the top right now—pretty neat considering she’s done everything humanly possible to come back from a stress fracture in her femur,” Etheridge said. “She’s more confident and tough, a great leader, on the front every time.”
Closely following Self are some more girls with wheels. Aislyn Peacock, who was 11th at the regional her freshman year, is coming into her junior year looking to be at the front of the pack. Megan Peters is looking good after a great track season, when she set personal records at every distance. Senior Hannah Craig, who garnered 2nd place in the pole vault at state this past track season, comes in as a solid leader and varsity runner. Sophomore Mallika Vohra has made a huge jump over the summer. According to Etheridge, she is starting to have some “mojo” in practice every day, where she runs as high as second on the team.
Also in the middle of things are Kristie Cunningham, Mehak Vohra, Evelyn Pieper, Elizabeth Martin, and a couple of the freshman.
Etheridge said that “last year we had one of the better teams in the state and picked the regional to have our worst race. We are working to have one competitive race after another this year, all leading to the regional, where I expect us to be one of the state qualifiers.”
Self said they are a young team, but they are working to have a more competitive mindset so that they can walk away from each race knowing they gave it all they had.
“I think they can run with almost anyone they decide to run with,” Etheridge said. “The ability is there.”
The boys’ team is coming into this cross country season as one of the strongest teams in the state.
“In terms of pure, raw talent this is a pretty special group,” Etheridge said. “Their work ethic is second to none—I can’t say I’ve ever had a group of boys who all work as hard and with as much common purpose as this group. I get to tell them to slow down, to take days off, to run fewer miles. Believe me, that’s a privilege.
“Ian Barclay took track season off, but has come back unbelievably strong,” the coach said. “In fact, he and Wesley Robinson, Tyler Boullie, and Thomas Colburn make up our front group, and these guys are all incredibly strong. It’s good to have Wesley, who took some time away from cross country, but is running really strong. Tyler had a breakout track season last year as a freshman running 10:04 at the sectional meet, placing ninth in the 3200—the best freshman time I can ever remember here at ORHS. And Thomas has really closed the gap to Tyler over the summer, now running with him step for step.”
Not far back at all is another strong pack of Peyton Gupton, Daniel Beckett, and Riley Fitchpatrick. According to Etheridge, Gupton has made a huge leap over the summer by running a “boatload of miles” and is now “lean and mean.” Riley did the same thing. Those two have taken on the leadership of the team. Beckett has also worked a lot harder this year and has a ton of talent. These three make a very strong pack behind the top four.
Not only do they work hard, but this is one highly competitive group of guys who, according to senior captain Riley Fitchpatrick, hate to lose to their own teammates on easy days, much less other teams in races.
“You just can’t let someone finish ahead of you, even if it’s just practice,” Barclay said. “Wesley is a big part of that. If Tyler or I get ahead, Wesley’s right there next to us and doesn’t let go until the run is over. He stays with us, we stay with him, and everyone gets faster.”
Etheridge said this is the most confidence he has had in a team in a few years, the kind of confidence he has when he knows his team can do great things. He says he may even break out his Rick James shirt.
Oak Ridge will race their first meet of the 2013 season Aug. 31 at Hardin Valley Academy with the girls’ varsity race beginning at 9 a.m.