By Neville Caulfield
In any sport, it’s known that one performance does not define the ability of a team. The Oyster River Boys Cross Country team proved this theory in 2014 when they lost the state title, placing not second, but fourth in the state meet. They came back just weeks later at the Meet of Champions, and at the New England Championship meet to beat all teams that placed ahead of them at their state meet.
With the state title still as the main goal, the OR Boys Cross Country team is eager to get back out onto the courses and see how far they have progressed from last year. With the addition of two of the top freshmen in the state, Noah Strout and Henry Keegan, the 2015 varsity team won their first two meets of the season and are feeling hopeful for a successful post-season championship.
When blood, sweat, tears, and more sweat doesn’t pay off when it needs to, the disappointment is crushing. Being an athlete, you not only devote your time and attention to your sport, but you also push your body to its limit every day at practice. It is this memory on physical exertion that comes back to you when all of your work doesn’t pay off, and there’s no worse feeling.
In the 2014 fall season, the Oyster River Boys Cross Country team ran over 800 miles before competing in their state meet at Derryfield Park in Manchester, NH. There they ran a 5000 meter course (5k) along with 64 other teams from high schools all across the state. “I was really pleased with the progress the guys made throughout the season. They worked really hard but luck just wasn’t in their favor [at the state meet],” reported boys head coach Greg Gephart.
With the mid-day temperature rising through the eighties, the boys were ready to get the race over and done with, but they never lost sight of their goal. The goal of the Oyster River Boys Cross Country team was to run the race of their lives and beat Coe-Brown Northwood Academy (CBNA) — the favorite, or top prospect for the state title — and win the meet. “We were losing to CBNA basically every single meet. They were the favorite, and I don’t think anyone gave us much of a chance,” says Gephart.
Gephart’s training philosophy is not to pack in as many miles and as many workouts as possible, but a much more tactical view. He sees the season as a pyramid; have the boys build a solid base of milage over the summer, and then slowly work on top of that to bring them to a point at the end of the season. This is called “peaking” a runner’s performance; they are at the peak of their fitness and, in the sense of OR, the peak of the pyramid.
CBNA won the meet easily, but not in the way that everyone expected. Evidence points to the fact that the boys had it in them to be a fierce competitor to Coe Brown at the end of the season, but that was if they had a good day. Times were getting lower, workouts were becoming easier, and everyone felt faster. “I was very focused, I had my goal and I had a plan, but I knew something was wrong when we hit the hill,” says Patrick O’Brien (‘17), OR’s top runner. About two thirds of the way through the race, at the top of an extremely tough hill, O’Brien’s body couldn’t take anymore and he collapsed on the side of the trail, more pained with having to give up his chance of what he worked so hard for than what he was physically feeling. O’Brien wasn’t the only one on the team who felt disappointed with their performance, “Everybody raced badly that day, even though there were no other catastrophes. It was just a bad day for all of us, especially mentally,” says fourth year runner Evan Gordon.
Dehydration, on top of an extremely hot day for October, was the reason for O’Brien’s performance. It was something that has taught him, and the rest of the team, to be more conscious about pre-race fueling and its importance.
“What I was really impressed with was that we had what we would consider a catastrophic meet, and we got fourth. In most sports, to be in the final four is a huge honor,” says Gephart. Placing in the top four at the Divisional State Meet means that your team gets to go on to compete in the Meet of Champions (MOCs) with the best of the best in the state. There, the Oyster River boys got fourth again, beating all other teams in their division, all those that had beat them a week prior. This fourth place finish got the boys a ticket to New England’s, where they once again beat out all other New Hampshire teams in their division, placing them 20th out of 30 teams, and Coe Brown 24th.
The new school year means a new start for all sports teams. New teammates, new competition, and a clean slate. The Boys Cross Country team sees the 2015 season as a time to show the rest of the state who they are, and who they always have been. “They’re very tight knit, with a high expectation of success. Every year they want to get better and they set high goals for themselves, and for the team,” says OR Athletic Director Corey Parker. After losing five seniors last year, and adding five new freshmen to the mix, two of which made varsity, this is a whole new team. “I’m excited to be a part of it. I want to do well myself and especially as a team,” says freshman Noah Strout, who placed 5th in his middle school state meet last year.
Noah Strout and Henry Keegan are the top two freshmen on the 2015 team, and both scored for the team (third and fifth respectively) at the most recent meet at Hollis Brookline High School. Both of them had solid performances, even better considering it was their first real high school meet. “I knew that they would be good, but even I am impressed with how quickly they made the transition to high school running,” said Gephart. And it is a big change. Oyster River Middle School holds practice two to three times a week, and they run a few short miles. “It’s a whole new training program, it’s better and I’m looking forward to getting faster,” said Keegan. Past the top two, the rest of the freshmen show utmost promise for the coming years. “They are stepping up big-time and they are making an impact. We have a bright future for the team,” said O’Brien.
With the state meet more than a month and a half away, it’s hard to predict the outcome. “Our goal this year is the same as last, to win the DII title. Coe Brown will be hard to beat as no one on the 2014 varsity team was a senior, and especially now that they have adopted our strategy of a tight pack of top runners. It’s too early to say yet, but I think we have a good shot,” said Gephart.