Sunday, November 12, 2017

Another Wayzata Double

After winning the team title at the MSHSL Cross Country Championships, Wayzata's Boy's and Girl's teams added the NXR titles to their "resume." The triumphs mean that both teams will be competing again on December 2,  attempting to win  NXN titles.
Wayzata State Champs

"We've had that goal(to attempt to win another NXN title) all year," said coach Dave Emmans.  "It's become sort of built into our culture."  Having that goal is important, said Emmans, because it can be intimidating for most teams to think about what has become high school cross country's National Championships."

Not every team or every runner can cope with such a lofty goal.  It helps that the Wayzata girls team won that title in 2014, which demonstrated to members of the Wayzata teams that followed  that it was possible.  That win makes it a bit less intimidating and a goal that can be absorbed into the program, part of the culture.

To meet the challenge at NXN requires both physical and mental "toughness."  It makes for a long season and requires that the team is able to be able to peak at the right times.  Just winning a State championship is a major accomplishment for most teams, so extending the season and being able to perform at a high level in different settings are necessary.

"We don't race a lot," said Emmans.  The reason being that each race has its own goal, part of the building blocks of a successful championship season.  The Griak Invitational, for example, is on the team's schedule because it is a chance for the team to compete in a large field of talented athletes.  Late season races, such as the MSHSL Cross Country Championships is a similar challenge, as is the the NXN meet.

The larger field and high caliber athletes requires that the runners must follow a plan and have the ability to to "run their own race" instead of being distracted by others.  When asked about how things went after this year's Griak, Emmans replied that he was very proud of how the team responded to the challenge.  They maintained that high level throughout the season, said Emmans.

They were able to stay consistent, performing  well every meet instead of having a good race on one outing followed by a less satisfactory one.  At Griak, for example, instead of panicking in the big field, the girls were able to follow the race plan, to run their own race, not get caught up in what the other teams were doing.

That was important because they had a "young, but very smart(4.0 in the classroom as well as accomplished on the field of play.) athletes  The 2014 team had a leader, Anna French, who, Emmans said, led the team to the title.

This year's group has lot of   "really potentially good runners." coming into their own, said Emmans.  They've demonstrated that they are capable of doing great things.  Their confidence has grown with each performance.

Now there is but one more "mountain" to climb and opportunity to do something special.  NXN is the goal of just about any talented team in the US and a new experience than most teams never get.  The athletes are treated well, but  the  "hospitality"can be distracting.  The key being to enjoy the atmosphere, but also adhere to the reason for all the work done to get to this point.  To be a "Podium team," said Emmans, and if all goes well repeating being on the top of that podium.

"This was a special group of guys, says Wayzata boy's coach Mark Popp.  "Good guys coming into their own." It's a "scary" deep team with their tight pack being a "secret" to their success.  They've run more races than the girl's team and have had a similar consistency.  With the depth and talent they could "rest" and rotate the participants, but with that depth and consistency they had the luxury of having a high level of performance with whatever line-up was chosen.

The goal going into the season was to be a consistent "podium team", to be ready for Conference, Sectionals, and sharp for the MSHSL State Meet  Back off the training a bit after State, qualify for NXN.  They've followed that plan and had consistent performances all season no dips, just solid efforts in each outing.

As Section 6 AA is otherwise known as the" Section of death" because of the strength on the teams, you have to treat the meet as almost a mini State Meet because a dip in performance can result in the team becoming spectators for the MSHSL XC Championships.
Wayzata boy's 6AA Champions. Photo by Kraig A. Lungstrom

Another challenge was getting and keeping the team's number one runner Khalid Hussein healthy.  The runner-up at the 2016 State XC Meet.  Hussein ran a 2:12 1600 in track season, but had an injury afterwards and got a slow start to cross country training.  Popp does a pre-race routine of talking with his runners, providing them with a road map of sorts as to individual's strengths and weaknesses and how to plan and execute the best possible strategy on race day.

With his mile speed Popp said that Hussein should stay in contact with the lead runners and have faith in his finish as Hussein would be a better "closer" than the others.  Hussein followed the plan to perfection, waiting until the last portion of the race to open up and break away from Roseville Area's Acer Iverson, who had tried to make a break away move on the hill with about a mile and a half to go in the race.  Hussein stayed in Iverson's shadow and began his charge for the finish on the downhill coming out of the woods. In the last 800 Hussein quickly opened up a gap between he and Iverson so Hussein could coast  after climbing the little hill within sight of the finish.

At the NXR Heartland Regional Meet Hussein finished third, three seconds out of first.  The spread between Hussein and the team's fifth runner was wider than at the State Meet.  Hussein got a late start to his training for the cross country season because he was recovering from an injury.  He and maybe the others may have been more fatigued as the State meet and NXR was eight days ago.

So the gap between NXR and NXN should give Hussein and his teammates plenty of time to rest and sharpen for the challenge ahead.  Like the girls, the Wayzata boys will try for a podium finish, and if everybody is "firing on all cylinders" a unique accomplishment of finishing the season with another  double.

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