Northwest enjoying strength in numbers
More than 100 runners hit the trail for the SMNW cross country team as the boys prepare for a run at their 13th straight state title
Nobody will lose the 2006 Shawnee Mission Northwest cross country team in a crowd this season.
The fact is they are the crowd.
A whopping 106 runners have come out for the Cougars squads this year and head coach Van Rose, who has coached 12 straight boys cross country Kansas 6A state championship teams, has been pleased with the effort of all of them.
"They're really working hard," Rose said. "They're doing everything I've asked them to do."
One of the reasons the vast numbers of runners have been putting in so much intense training is because there are huge shoes to fill on the boys' side of the team. Besides the lethal 1-2 punch of Tucker Weems and Bret Imgrund, the Cougars also lost solid seniors Rick Stahl, Will O'Donnell and Trent Banks from last season's dominant state championship squad.
Although two returnees remain -- seniors Josh Weems and Michael Hauber -- Rose believes the door is wide open for new runners for both the boys' and girls' squads to make their marks.
"I think we have a bunch of kids who see an opportunity now," Rose said. "They're saying, 'Now it's my turn.' Some of them kids have waited patiently."
That isn't to say the large numbers of runners and the inexperience haven't offered their own challenges.
"We've got a lot of new faces and since they had virtually no middle school running it's been a learning experience," Rose said. "Because of size issues we have to split the squad on certain days. Other than Josh and Michael, no one's been in a varsity race before so you just don't know. Kids can look good in practice but you just don't know until you see them in a meet."
Rose said there were some girls coming back, too, but each year, you need some surprises. Last year, three huge surprises came in the form of Allison Knoll, Sarah Nackley and Meg Jackson.
"It's time for some of the older kids to come into their own, but I can't complain about their effort," Rose said.
Currently, Rose has his athletes working on the "pregame" keys to the race while also talking to them about in-race tactics that might not make sense to his runners until they have their first taste of a varsity meet.
"So far we've been using the time for warm-up practice and core strengthening," Rose said. "We've done no great amounts of mileage because it's still been too warm. This is the first week that we've had some idea of routine. We need to put as much on 'auto pilot' as we can as far as warm-up routine. When I go to critique that first meet that will probably be what we focus on -- 'Let's get warmed up properly,' 'run with your teammates' -- We've been doing it in practice so we should be able to do it in meets.
"There are a lot of things you can talk about now and it won't make any sense until you run the race," Rose added. "Things like strategy, pre-race meal. Hopefully they can get together and run as a pack. We have to have confidence in our numbers. We can't let this become seven or eight different races. We need to use our mob strength to run the race."
The 2006 Cougar cross country season begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Saints' Challenge at Johnson County Community College.