Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wayzata Boys Back on Top in Minnesota and Learn Some Lessons Along the Way

After the individual and team medals were draped around the runners' and coaches' necks at the awards ceremony of the MSHSL XC Championships, Wayzata's Bill Miles drifted back among the team, who were beginning to line up for team pictures.  He took the medal from around his neck and awarded it to one of the team's alternates, a runner who didn't get a medal at the formal ceremonies.  It was Miles' way of acknowledging all the members of the team, not just those in the spotlight.

The Wayzata boy's and girl's MSHSL XC Championsip teams.
Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
It was a banner year in cross country for Wayzata as they won both the boy's and girl's State Championships.  Both teams went to Nike Nationals with the girls winning the team title.  More importantly, perhaps, the boy's team learned some lessons along the way.  As the season began, the projections were that the 2013 team championship race would probably come down to a battle between defending champion Stillwater, Wayzata, and Edina.  In the early season meets, Wayzata delivered dominating performances.  Both top runner Connor Olson and the team showed their heels to all opposition.

After being beaten by Stillwater last year, the team wanted to prove to themselves that they were the top team this year, said Miles.  As they discovered, however, there is a cost to early full-on efforts, both individually and collectively.  "It got a little long," said Miles of the season that stretched through the NXN Regions and Championships in December.  "They were just shot," said club coach Kraig Lungstrom, a 2:16 marathoner and unofficial team photographer, who takes over the team for post-season competitions.

The team was having trouble handling workouts that they had done easily in September, he noted.  During the four weeks between the MSHSL Championships and NXN, where the runners might normally take a day or two off, some Wayzata runners took off seven or eight days, said Lungstrom.

It wasn't injuries, just fatigue.  Mark Popp, Wayzata's sprint coach had suggested an exercise program that he used with the his runners to help improve overall fitness and flexibility.  At first Miles resisted, says Lungstrom.  "Bill is old school," Lungstrom said. Miles isn't one to quickly adopt something new, but he tried the program this season.

"This was the first year where we were relatively injury free," said Lungstrom.  It's too early to tell if the new program will become a permanent addition, but for this year at least, it helped keep the team healthy.  That and the desire to prove their worth led to the extra efforts early in the season, but by the time the NXN races rolled around, fatigue hit them and they couldn't reproduce the form that won them the early meets and the State Championship.

"It's good that that happened," said Miles.  "They learned the lesson.  (Next year) You'll see more controlled racing from (Olson and the rest of the team)."

Olson(right) and Obsa Ali(left) dual for the title at the MSHSL XC
Championships.  Photo by Kraig Lungstrom
It wasn't all bad that the team wasn't at its best at NXN this year, said Lungstrom, as it allowed them to approach the competition differently.  Olson, who had run NXN as an individual in 2012, wanted the team experience this year.  He said after the State Meet that his goal in post season was to help the team do well, not how high he might be able to place in the NXN races.

With fading sharpness, this year's NXN became something of a recon mission.  A chance to soak up the pageantry of the Nike experience and learn what it takes to do well.  Learn and use those lessons to do better next time.  "It's best to get them out (to compete in NXN) one time when they are underclassmen,"  said Lungstrom, who has been taking Wayzata teams since 2007 to the Regions and Nationals.  "The second time, you race it...Next year is our year."

The first quarter at NXN usually goes out hard, around 62-63 seconds, said Lungstrom.  So, he had the Wayzata team do that in practice leading up to the race.  When the gun went off in Portland Wayzata's boys went out hard, too hard for their level of fatigue going into the race, Lungstrom acknowledged.  "They went into oxygen debt pretty early," he said.  They paid the price later in the race and, as a result only managed 15th place.  Another lesson learned.

The planning for next XC season will start in May, as it usually does, when the team sits down with the coaches and begins to outline "competitive goals" and "process goals," i.e the desired result and what it will take to get there, says Miles.  The goal setting comes from the runners, he says, and they are "usually pretty realisitic in what they have the ability to achieve."  In August they have another session, perhaps adjusting those goals or the process.

"All we can control is how good we are," says Miles, and that becomes the yardstick by which they measure themselves, how close they can get to their bests or how much they surpass their previous bests.  Yes, they usually focus on the State Meet and Nike Nationals, but their success is measured not in titles, but in individual improvement.  "All of our year-end awards are for most improved," says Miles.  It's a way to recognize everyone's development, not just the varsity or the top runners.

"Lot's of our kids who have never run a varsity race(in high school) have gone on to do well in college," says Miles.  Those alumni, as they do in other schools, visit often.  They run with the current team and pass on, says Miles, "the wisdom of the elders."  One bit of wisdom came from Wayzata grad Josh Thorson, who now runs for the Gophers and is the only male runner to have run four NXN meets, says Lungstrom.

Thorson talked with Olson and said: "I'd give up my state title(Thorson won the 2011 MSHSL XC title and the 3200 in track in 2012)" for a chance to have a run at the podium at NXN with the team. Lungstrom has told the team that next year will be his last trip as their coach for NXN.

"You need to get me there next year," he said.  "Next year I want you to be on the podium."

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