Happy running under the radar

As the leader of the metro area's elite cross country program, Broadneck junior Tait Woodward is the center of attention - whether she likes it or not.


The face of Broadneck girls cross country would rather not be.

Junior Tait Woodward stunned some of the sport's aficionados when she captured the Anne Arundel County title last fall. Runner-up finishes at the Class 4A East regional and state meets provided further evidence that Woodward had become the next outstanding talent produced by a Bruins program that has yielded Lauren Centrowitz, Lauren Riesett, Susan St. Cyr and Emily Nagle.

But ask Woodward if she enjoys the status - and pressure and expectations - of representing Broadneck, and she flashes a rueful smile.

"I want to do well, but I don't really care about that," Woodward said. "I want to win, and it would be cool to be a runner that everyone knows, but I don't think of it like that."

Like it or not, however, Woodward has become the de facto leader of a Bruins program that is less than two years removed from back-to-back state championships. A team captain along with senior Kasey Jamison, Woodward is the team's No. 1 runner and most recognizable face on the area cross country scene.

Broadneck coach Dana Dobbs said the onus on Woodward to carry the torch lit first by Riesett and fanned by Centrowitz is palpable.

"I think it's fair to say that the expectation is there," Dobbs said. "She gave the state a glimpse of her ability to lead last year at the state meet. She's focused and ready. ... I think she will be able to handle that pressure well."

Woodward's resume in cross country began when she watched older siblings Jamie and Seth run for the Bruins. In fact, Woodward said one of her earliest memories of cross country involved watching her siblings compete in the state championships at Hereford's daunting course.

"I was just like, `Wow, that's insane,' " Woodward recalled. "The hills looked so big to me, and I was so small. But it looked kind of fun to me actually."

So Woodward gave up soccer and joined the cross country team. Her freshman year included a No. 3 spot behind Centrowitz and Nagle, a team state crown and an appearance on the All-County team.

Last fall, Woodward began the season behind Nagle. But toward the latter half of the season, Dobbs noticed something.

"Last year, I think she kind of re-invented herself, especially near the latter part of the season," he said. "She started to think more about race strategy and the kinds of improvements that she wanted to make and the kinds of goals that she was going to set for herself."

That development manifested at the county championships, where Woodward found herself in a showdown with Arundel's Marissa McPhail and Severna Park's Liya Kasimova.

McPhail, then a junior, had widely been considered the heir apparent to Centrowitz, while Kasimova had launched her freshman year with eye-opening showings.

Woodward, on the other hand, was getting little notice. Yet, it was Woodward who outlasted McPhail and Kasimova for the county title.

In retrospect, Woodward said the lack of attention was a blessing.

"I guess I thought that they were getting a lot of credit, but it kind of made me want to beat them more because I wasn't getting any credit," she said of the victory. "It just made me realize that I can run with people and carry it into other races."

While Woodward has put in the training - she averaged 24 miles a week this past summer - to hone her speed and stamina, she has worked hard to cultivate the same in her teammates.

As a team captain, Woodward has led the team in prayer and is usually the first one to offer encouragement or advice. Sophomore Carly Hamill said Woodward always tries to establish a positive attitude before each practice and race.

"She's really good at encouraging our team to work hard," Hamill said. "People respect her, and they listen to her because she knows what she's talking about."

Woodward said she has modeled her leadership skills after those of St. Cyr, a strong runner who shared captain duties with Centrowitz when both were seniors two years ago.

"She was quiet, but she was always nice to everyone and always had great words to say to people," Woodward said. "She was the one who usually prayed and told everyone how they were going to do and stuff. I really liked her."

Woodward's progress has steadily improved this fall. After finishing 18th at the Barnhart Memorial Invitational at Dulaney on Sept. 10 and 17th in the elite division of the Bull Run Invitational at Hereford a week later, Woodward placed second at the Knights Invite at Baybrook Park on Sept. 23.

Dobbs said he is not concerned about Woodward's early tribulations.

"We're about sacrificing earlier season meets and sacrificing some of those results to do the strength training and base-building that we need to do," he said. "Then by the time the season's end rolls around, that's when we're most concerned. Our whole season is geared toward that, and Tait's smart enough to realize that."

Woodward's bid for a second straight county championship won't be easy. McPhail won the public schools race of the Spiked Shoe Invite, and Kasimova was second behind defending All-Metro Runner of the Year Alison Smith of Atholton at the Howard County Striders Invitational.

"I think they're both going to be great," Woodward said of McPhail and Kasimova. "It's good to have competition. I think competition makes me more motivated. When I have someone to run with, I think I do better because I'm trying to keep up with them."

The one area Woodward doesn't mind falling behind in is attention. Woodward said she has surfed Internet chat rooms and found McPhail's and Kasimova's names, but not hers.

"I don't think I get a lot of talk in those [forums]," Woodward said. "Sometimes that doesn't put as much pressure on me, which is good."


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