The Lovejoy cross country machine continues to roll, with a second consecutive UIL 5A state championship this weekend in its crosshairs.
The Leopards will travel to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock on Saturday for the boys 5K state title race, scheduled to begin at approximately 9:10 a.m. After winning last year’s ultimate race by a 12-second average – and returning four runners from that winning fivesome – Lovejoy is the favorite to repeat.
Led by sophomores Brady Laboret and William Muirhead, Lovejoy dominated the Region II meet in Grand Prairie with an average finish time of 16:34. The second-place team, Frisco Wakeland, finished with an average time of 16:52 – nearly 20 seconds behind the Leopards.
Laboret and Muirhead, along with seniors Bradley Davis, Ryan Spruell and Ryan Brands and junior Brett Pedersen, all crossed the finish line at regionals in under 17 minutes. Only sophomore Whitson Bedell finished in over 17 minutes – and Bedell still finished in the top 40 of all runners.
The pack-running mentality has served Lovejoy well, but head coach Doug Christensen said that’s not specifically what he teaches prior to races.
“Honestly, we just have so many quality runners that train the same way, and when they get to a meet, they just want to let it rip and do the best that they can,” he said. “It’s not so much me or a coach telling them [to run in a pack] – I just think they all run the same way, and it shows in the final results.”
Coached specifically that way or not, pack-running has buoyed Lovejoy into the discussion of the best 5A cross country school in Texas – the Leopards have been to the state meet every year since Lovejoy created a cross country team.
That, in turn, means a new set of leaders emerge each season with valuable experience. Whether it’s Spruell or Bedell who joins the Laboret, Pedersen, Brands and Davis at state, there will be four runners who were a part of last year’s state-title winning team.
“Having experience really goes a long way,” Christensen said. “We’ve been at state every year that we’ve had a program and that benefits everyone. This year, we’re lucky to have young guys and older guys that all have experience. It helps to know what kind of pressure and atmosphere you’ll face at a meet like this beforehand.”
With two days until the state meet, Christensen is focused on maintaining the quality of his group – without upping the pressure internally.
“We’ll vary training a little bit, maybe give them a bit more rest here and there, but also focus on certain aspects a bit more,” he said. “I don’t want to change too much [leading up to state].”
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