Monday, December 10, 2012

Wayzata Girls Surprise Themselves with End of Year Run

"We never set out to be a Nationals team," said Wayzata girl's cross country coach Dave Emmans.  On December 1 they finished their season by placing seventh in the NXN cross country meet in Portland and  maintained their seventh place ranking in the US compiled by the Harrier's Marc Bloom.

The NXN performance topped an end-of-season run that resulted in a wins at the MSHSL XC Championships and the NXN Heartland Region, as well as the NXN Nationals result.  Going into the season, the goal was to improve on last year's third place finish in the MSHSL Championships.  That seemed a realistic challenge because the 2011 team was all returning for 2012.

"We knew we could be very good," said Emmans.  "I told the kids: "Hey, you can win this thing(State Meet).  Get enough miles in during the summer.  Be together as a team.'"  The group did what they were told, but, Emmans added: "They didn't go crazy.  They didn't try and do a lot (dramatically increase mileage or training over the summer).  Just added a little more...Most kids have a ceiling, a limit to how much they can do or achieve.  We just happen to have quite a few kids who don't appear to have a ceiling."

A common theory among those who watch the sport is that high school girls peak as freshman and sophomores, said Emmans, but Wayzata girls appear to have not yet reached their "ceilings." That's how they have improved, Emmans noted, one "small step" at a time, and with unity and selflessness as a team.  Perhaps Wayzata's most valuable commodity is their depth, he noted, as next year's team will have four girls who have run sub-15 for 4K and another eight who have broken 16.

Like in Kenya, where extraordinary depth in distance running talent has resulted in stiff competition for national team spots and opportunities to make it internationally, the Wayzata team has internal vying for positions on the team as daunting as the competition they will encounter in races.  While this depth makes Wayzata a force to be reckoned with in 2013, Emmans knows from his 20 year coaching career, that nothing is guaranteed.

This year was different: "The stars aligned," said Emmans.  "No injuries, no sickness.  That never happens." The team also bonded together, not letting individual disappointments become issues.  For example, senior Emily Holscher, who was a member of the 2011 team that finished third at State, did not make the top seven  for this year's State team.  "She didn't make one, big dramatic scene," says Emmans.  She accepted it and supported the team, he added.

Emmans also give his assistant coach, Ady Hallen, much of the credit for keeping the team together and aiding their success.  "We wouldn't be there without her<" said Emmans of Hallen.  "She understands (the team).  She talks me off the ledge."  And helps deal with the benefits and potential problems of having the great depth the Wayzata team possess.  Emmans said one of the year's accomplishments of which he is most proud is that they split the team up early in the year and ran one team at two separate invitational meets and Wayzata won both of them.

A bit of good fortune, call it luck, this year also helped. during 2011 three runners on the team had to deal with illness, cases of Whooping Cough, during the season, along with the other normal interruptions of training and preparation.  They went into the 2011 State meet with less than an ideal attitude, said Emmans.  He remembers hearing them talking before going to the starting line about how tired they felt, in essence talking themselves out of a good performance before the starting gun fired.

This year they were simply on a mission, one they accomplished impressively.  After that the challenge became one of simply fielding a team, rather than how well that team would perform.  Four of the team members go right from cross country running into cross country skiing, another plays on the basketball team.  The skiers, who had gone on a trip to Colorado over Thanksgiving for training at altitude and on snow, the basketball team did wind sprints to get ready for their season.

While State meet triumph was sort of a natural end to the season, Emmans talked to the runners and their ski and basketball coaches, all of whom agreed to give it a try.  After winning the NXN regional meet, things became even looser, Emmans noted.  Their attitude going into NXN, said Emmans, was: "'We made it.  If we take last, it won't be the end of the world.' So they went into it with no expectations.  Not having that pressure (to perform), they were just having a blast." And it was the basketball player, McKenna Evans who stepped up on race day to lift to team to seventh place.

The seventh finisher on the team at Regions, Evans was the fourth team finisher at Nationals.  Without her performance we would have dropped out of the top ten, said Emmans.  It was that kind of season, girls "stepping up" when needed and making a difference.  "The kids got along," said Emmans.  "They respected each other."

Was that "loose" attitude and no pressure that may have been a help at Nationals the key to success?  Emmans says he doesn't know.  The team was loose enough at the Griak Invitational earlier in the year to make their "Call Me Maybe" video, but the results on course did not mirror the triumphs at the end of the season.  "It was probably our worst performance," said Emmans.  No guarantees.  No magic formula that always work.

Things change from year to year, and although Wayzata will no doubt go into 2013 as the team to watch, Emmans knows from experience that the challenge is to accept new goals, put in the necessary work to achieve your them, and having a bit of luck or good fortune is a definite, yet unprogramable, asset for success.

"Time demands on kids is ten times greater now(than in the past)," says Emmans.  "Trying to get kids to commit(to a particular task or goal), that's where you make your money."

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