Pace-setter

Although he has only been running cross country two years, Broadneck junior Matthew Centrowitz is a force in the sport.

November 23, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

When Matthew Centrowitz told his parents prior to his sophomore year that he planned to drop soccer in favor of cross country, he got a surprising response from his father.

Don't do it.

The advice didn't come from just any father who thinks he knows best. Matt Centrowitz is a two-time Olympian who won four consecutive national titles in the 5,000 between 1979 and 1982 and captured a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games in that event.

The cross country and track and field coach at American University in Washington, Centrowitz said he and his wife, Beverly, gave the same counsel to their daughter Lauren, a 10-time state champion in cross country and track who is currently running at Stanford.

"I do that with all of my children," he said. "I tell them, `Cross country's too difficult. Play other sports.' I didn't want [Matthew] to feel the pressure [to run]. Same with Lauren. It was fine with us if - since they played soccer for years - they stayed with it. We wanted to make sure that it was something they wanted to do instead of pleasing me or their mother. That was just to give them a double check."

Thankfully for Broadneck, Matthew Centrowitz set off on his own path, a path that has led the junior to statewide acclaim.

In just two years of cross country, Centrowitz has swept the Class 4A state, East regional and Anne Arundel County championships twice. The Sun's All-Metro Runner of the Year last fall, Centrowitz has paced the Bruins to back-to-back team crowns.

Not only did Centrowitz establish a new state record with a winning time of 16 minutes, 0.28 seconds at Hereford in Parkton on Nov. 12, but he also defeated a strong field that included Eleanor Roosevelt's Mikias Gelagle, Gaithersburg's Ryan Janes and Broadneck teammate Matt Llano.

With his senior year ahead of him, Centrowitz could become only the third male runner to claim three consecutive state titles. Randallstown's Jeff Campbell first won three in a row from 1986 to 1988, and Centennial's Pat Rodrigues won from 1988 to 1990.

Brad Jaeger, founder of runningmaryland.com, a Web site devoted to cross country and track and field in the state, marveled at Centrowitz's season.

"His improvement comes in giant leaps rather than in small steps," said Jaeger, who also coaches at Perry Hall. "I was expecting him to run a 16:15 at the state meet, but his 16:00 time looked effortless."

Added River Hill coach Earl Lauer, who has molded Mike Styczynski and Shane Stroup into All-Metro Runners of the Year in cross country: "Matt ranks up there with some of the best in the state -- ever."

Centrowitz's development over the past year has progressed on several fronts. Physically, he has grown four more inches to 5 feet 8, and a steady regimen of push-ups and pull-ups has helped him add muscle to his upper frame.

Psychologically, Centrowitz said he has had to curtail his habit of finding the negative instead of the positive in his efforts.

"I would be hard on myself," he said. "You don't want to give yourself too many compliments, but it's always good to say, `Hey, that was a good workout' or `I'm happy with how I performed.' At some part of the race, I would always start thinking, `Oh, man, if only I went faster at this part' or `Only if I went harder at this part.' It always had to be some kind of thing that I would look at. Sometimes, you've just got to tell yourself, `I gave it all I had.' "

Llano, a senior who has become one of Centrowitz's closest friends, said the biggest difference he has noted is Centrowitz's approach to races.

"This year after races, he's talked about how he's had so many different strategies for how different things might work out," Llano said. "I think last year - with it being his first year - he kind of went into it blindly and just did it. This year, he's thinking more about how to improve his running career."

Unlike some of his rivals who logged up to 100 miles a week during the summer, Centrowitz's maximum output was 50 miles a week toward the end of this past summer. Rather than focusing on quantity, he has emphasized quality.

"Last year, a 7:30 pace [per mile] would be a hard day," he said. "This year, that would be a 6:30 pace. So I would run more miles, and I would run it faster."

After Centrowitz shattered the course record at Dulaney's Barnhart Memorial Invitational by 58 seconds, a sinus infection sapped his body of strength and contributed to his third-place outing in the elite division of the Bull Run.

Depending on whom you talk to, Centrowitz was either excited or relaxed in the weeks leading up to the state championships. While his father said he noticed accelerated speech patterns from his son, Centrowitz's sister said she did not notice anything in her phone conversations with him.

"I thought he would be nervous about repeating, but he was really calm about it," said Lauren Centrowitz, a sophomore at Stanford. "He had everything under control. I actually didn't give him much advice."

Matthew Centrowitz said although he has attended a few soccer games, he is content with his decision to switch sports. He laughed when he recalled his father's attempt at reverse psychology, but said he understood his father's position.

"I don't feel any pressure at all [to run]," Matthew Centrowitz said. "You see some parents forcing their kid to do a certain sport. My parents are the exact opposite."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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