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Coach calls ‘balance’ key to Woodridge boys cross country team

11/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

PENINSULA — Woodridge High School boys cross country head coach Jeff Howard said his team’s primary strength this year was its balance.

“We basically had seven guys — five seniors and two juniors — and all five of the seniors took turns at No. 1 for us. We had five different No. 1s throughout the year,” he stated. “We basically ran 17:05 [minutes] to 17:40 in every race all year. We were just real consistent. The guys put in a ton of miles in the summer, and they really worked hard. They committed to training.”

According to Howard, the team had “a real nice approach to pack racing” this year.

“We lacked that stud up front — that kid who was going to be up there winning races — but we always had a great split,” he said. “From one to five, there might be 30 seconds from our first runner to our fifth runner. That’s a really good number in cross country, and we did that almost every meet. This is the best pack team I’ve ever coached.”

The team finished the season with a 13-0 record and won a ninth-straight Portage Trail Conference title.

“We’ve never lost a conference meet in the history of our league,” the coach said. “We finished second in the district, and we were the regional champions. At the state meet, we finished eighth, and we were only 25 points out of third place. We ran really solid all year, and the regional championship ended up being a highlight. We ran an outstanding race at Boardman. That was the best race we had all year, and it was good to bring that trophy home.”

During the postseason, Howard said, Woodridge’s top runner was senior John Harry.

“He was our best runner at the end of the season,” the coach said. “He led us at the districts — I think he was sixth at the districts — and he was 11th at the regional and around 50th at the state. He’s just a great kid and a real solid competitor.”

The other top seniors this season were Gabe Boyd, Tim Faiken, Andrew Stewart and Kyle Jarvis.

“All of those guys were huge for us,” Howard said. “The fact that these kinds of guys have stuck around and got through it is why we’ve been to the state tournament for 10 years in a row. These guys were all on four state teams throughout their careers. I think they’ve been part of a nice tradition, and these guys all wrote their own little chapters.”

Other key runners on the team included juniors Noah Bullock and Tyler Adams.

“Noah ran the state meet last year for us, so we expected him to contribute right away, and he did very consistently all year,” the coach said. “Tyler had a huge summer, and he’s finally healthy, so he stepped in there and really surprised a lot of people. His hard work just really paid off, and he’s going to be a good runner for us next year as a senior. Noah and Tyler give us nice options for next year.”

Howard said he believes the 2014 season will be “very similar to this year.”

“I think we have a real nice junior class, including Noah and Tyler, and our alternate was a junior named Dan Kiley, and we expect a lot out of him next year,” the coach said. “We have a whole group of juniors and a couple real good sophomores coming back. I don’t think we’ll have that guy who can go out there and be top 20 in the state, but we’ve got probably 10 guys who will run between 17:05 and 17:40. If we can get them to drop down a little bit lower than that, I think we can be in the picture again next year.”

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