Runner changing first impressions into lasting image Cross country: McClearn living up to last year's promises after moving to South Carroll from Chicago area. Watch out in the approaching big meets.

October 09, 1997|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Steve McClearn enrolled at South Carroll last fall after moving from Chicago, he wanted to make a good impression with cross country coach Rob Pennington.

McClearn promptly went to his new coach and told the coach about the successes he had while running for Wabonsie Valley High School in Illinois. Pennington thought that was nice, but he had been through this before and wasn't bowled over.

But that quickly changed.

"I've had transfers come in and run off at the mouth before," said Pennington. "But he just went out, and he was focused, and he was probably the most technically sound runner I've ever seen. He knew exactly what needed to be done."

McClearn quickly became the Cavaliers' top runner. He went on to finish fourth in the county, seventh in the region and 19th in the state. But the senior came back this fall, stronger and looking for more, and has become one of the area's best runners.

McClearn ran well in Chicago in ninth and 10th grades, winning a freshman-sophomore conference title in the 3,200 meters as a sophomore. But he wasn't sure what to expect last fall.

"I wanted to go out there and let him [Pennington] know that I cared about this a little bit," said McClearn. "I thought I'd be in the middle of the pack."

But McClearn -- who impressed Pennington by coming to school to talk even before unpacking -- shot right to the No. 1 spot. He ran solid races, especially early, but felt disappointed overall, thinking he faded a bit in the last weeks of the season.

He proceeded to run well in track and field last spring. McClearn won the county's 3,200 meters and took second in the 800, plus third in the 1,600. He later took fourth in the state in the 1,600, as well as sixth in the 3,200.

But he already had started trying to improve. McClearn began hitting the weights over the winter, kept at it during the summer and put on 10 pounds. Now 5-foot-7 and 135 pounds, McClearn felt stronger and ran in numerous races over the summer.

McClearn has had a very strong season. He took second behind Dulaney's Greg Vincent at the Westminster Invitational and won the Howard County Invitational, in addition to running very well in the other races.

McClearn and Jason Santucci of Westminster now are probably the top two favorites for the county title -- with Westminster's Greg Fisher not far behind. McClearn has beaten Santucci twice, and the Owls' top gun knocked him off last week.

But McClearn likes how he's run so far.

"This year, I'm focused and really confident," he said. "I feel I can run with about anyone, except for Vincent."

Said Pennington: "I knew he had it in him last year, but he's gotten a little bit bigger physically, and he's focused."

The Cavaliers are having a better year overall. McClearn and Adam McCready are leading a balanced team that has been solid and consistent throughout the season. South Carroll won at Howard County and ran a strong second at Westminster.

McClearn also helps off the course, taking seriously his role as a co-captain with McCready. Pennington speaks highly of how well McClearn has served in that role -- especially in how he keeps the lines of communication open between runners and coaches.

"It seems to come in spurts," said McClearn. "They do seem to come to me with their problems. That's my job as the captain -- to help them."

Right now, however, McClearn wants to concentrate on finishing the season strongly. He desperately wants to avoid having himself or the team peak too soon, something most associated with South Carroll agree may have happened to everyone last year.

The Cavaliers probably don't have quite enough to catch defending state champion Westminster in the county, but McClearn could help lead them to big days in the state and region meets.

And that's where he could leave his last -- and best -- impression.

"I'm feeling good," said McClearn. "The team seems to be focused. I think if the team stays focused and doesn't get cocky, I think we can do well. I want to be ready for states."

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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