Going the distance

With more intense training and its eyes on a state championship, Francis Scott Key is making a run at its best season ever

Cross Country

October 08, 2006|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

About the only thing that got more of a workout than Jared Welsh's legs last summer was his dialing finger.

Feeling his cross country team, which took third in the state last fall, was on the brink of something special, Welsh made a habit of calling his Francis Scott Key teammates to set up evening runs.

"We just called the guys every day, and if they couldn't come we pestered them - made sure they were out running," said Welsh, who even offered teammates rides to entice them to join the group.

It's little wonder why the third-ranked Eagles are enjoying what could turn out to be their best season in school history.

Led by senior captain Welsh and juniors Arthur Leathers and Jordan White, Key stunned two-time defending Class 4A state champion Broadneck to win last month's South Carroll Invitational.

Welsh and Leathers then finished second and third, respectively, to lead their team to second place in the Medium Schools Division of the prestigious Bull Run Invitational at Hereford.

Now, the two-time defending Monocacy Valley Athletic League Piedmont Conference champions are looking for more.

"We ran good last year and had a good team, but we didn't have that dominance," said co-coach Tim Walsh, whose roster has 12 runners, far fewer than many of the Eagles' opponents. "We don't have big teams like Liberty and Westminster ... but these guys have worked so hard and improved for three and four years to make a name for themselves. Now it's their time to shine."

With a roster full of year-round runners, the Eagles found moderate success last season, but had to settle for third in their own county.

Despite consistent top performances from its front-runners, including an individual county title by Welsh, the team sometimes missed chances to win meets when their second-tier runners lagged behind.

"We had our whole team coming back, and we knew if we could just get everyone out there running, it would put us over the top," Welsh said.

The training was intense, with Welsh logging more than 500 miles over the summer break, and a handful of his teammates putting in about 400 miles.

White more than doubled his mileage from the previous summer, usually running anywhere from 6-to-12 miles a day. And the terrain constantly changed. Sometimes they would go to parks with rolling hills, while other times they would run on back roads - never with an eye on the stopwatch.

"We didn't do any speed at all," Leathers said. "All we did was distance the whole time, just building up our base for the year."

Several of Key's other top runners became regulars, including seniors Colin Fearns and Shane Craig and junior Zach Holz. It didn't take long for them to understand the importance of training as a team.

"When you're running six days a week in the summer, there might be days when you don't particularly want to do it," co-coach Dan Replogle said. "But when you're committed to a group - when somebody else is expecting you to run - that just makes it a little easier for you to get out there."

Welsh and Fearns took it a step further by attending the Shippensburg University Cross Country Camp, learning more about the dedication necessary to land a collegiate scholarship.

All the grueling work seems to be paying off.

Welsh, who hopes to continue his career at the Division I level, has knocked about 30 seconds a mile off his times from a year ago. White, who as a freshman finished the Bull Run in over 25 minutes, this year crossed the line in 17:41.

In fact, when comparing the times of the competitors in all three divisions of the Bull Run, including the large schools, Key's top five finishers would have - at least theoretically - placed the Eagles second out of 93 teams, overall.

Their next goal will be winning a Carroll County championship, something the Eagles have never done. That meet will be Oct. 26 at South Carroll, a team that could be Key's top competition.

"I think they have something to prove after last year," South Carroll coach Rob Pennington said of the Eagles. "They've been running together so long, and they know each other so well."

Their ultimate goal is to win their first state title since 1990. Despite the accolades, runners say there's plenty of room for improvement. After spending all summer and the first part of this season working to build stamina, the Eagles are only now beginning to shift their focus to speed.

They're more confident than ever.

"Knowing that you put in 400 miles ... coming to the starting line, you just know that all the work is going to pay off at that race," White said.

"They just want it," Walsh said. "Without their passion, we wouldn't have a team."

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