Trying to improve on dream season Cross country: Jason Santucci made quite an impression last fall, helping Westminster to the Class 4A state title. His goal this fall? To be even better.

September 13, 1998|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jason Santucci made quite a first impression last year at Westminster.

After transferring to Westminster from Virginia, Santucci quickly displaced the team's No. 1 runner, Greg Fisher, and turned in some memorable performances in helping the Owls win their second straight Class 4A state cross country championship.

Santucci hit his stride around mid-season and won the county, Central Maryland Conference, region and state titles and also was picked as the All-Metro team's Runner of the Year.

The question now -- what to do for an encore?

He started the season with a strong victory in the Owls' rout of Old Mill last week, but Santucci knows everyone will be watching him.

"There really is a lot of pressure," said Santucci. "I didn't have anything to prove last year, but now the pressure is just considered greater. Coming in second in the state is great for most people, but for me, it would be viewed as a letdown."

Santucci does have one thing he could use as a goal.

Injuries slowed him during indoor and outdoor track, and he could show only flashes of the brilliance that everyone saw last fall.

His problems began when he broke a big toe during indoor track. Once that improved, Santucci then pulled a hamstring. Although he ran well several times during both seasons, Santucci couldn't get back to his fall form.

To avoid that problem again this fall, Santucci spent the summer working himself into shape. He became heavily involved in cross-training, working three days a week on activities such as lifting weights, biking and swimming. All helped build muscle and possibly keep him away from physical problems.

Santucci said he felt a special urgency this summer.

"I just want to make sure that I can do as well as I did last year," he said.

Last fall was a dream for Santucci and a nightmare for his opponents.

He started slowly, but then took over Westminster's No. 1 spot. ** Fisher and Santucci eventually became a powerful 1-2 punch, something no other team had an answer for last season.

As the season went on, Santucci became stronger. Steve McClearn, of Class 3A state champion South Carroll, was the only runner who really bothered Santucci, but even he couldn't catch him once the Westminster runner got rolling.

Westminster girls coach Jim Shank has worked with Santucci, along with boys coach Dave Cox, particularly on helping him adjust to Maryland's hills.

"I think the hills were a new experience for him," said Shank. "Running in Virginia, he didn't see that many hills. Up here, it took him part of the season to learn how to run those hills and use them. By the end of the season, the hills were his friend."

Shank said Santucci could be even better this year. Santucci has assumed the role of leader off the race course, as well. Shank said that's important for the Owls, to have a runner as good as Santucci for the younger guys to watch.

"Now he's a role model for the guys," said Shank.

He might again be another role model for the state.

Santucci's Class 4A state title time was the second best in the state meet on a sloppy, cold, windy day at Hereford. But even on a rotten day, it was easy to see just how good this runner was -- something that may be shown again.

"It seemed like he was head and shoulders above everyone else," said South Carroll coach Rob Pennington. "He was blessed. He's got that gift, and if he uses it right, he could go a long way in this sport."

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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