Coach’s Corner: In Defense of Defending – Part 3

By Mike Smith

After the 2014 cross country season I wrote a piece regarding the difficulty of defending a state championship title.  We won in 2014 and were returning a strong core group and had some very solid prospects coming up. But the odds are stacked against you, no matter how good you are as even in Division 1, there are 17 other teams looking to be top dog.  In Division 3 there are something like 36, some of them with stronger programs and some not able to round out a varsity roster. We were hoping to defend, but it’s not that easy.

Our 2015 season was a pretty good one, with us winning some sizable invites, but ultimately falling to Kearsarge, who had an incredible race that day and beat us soundly.  While it was only by one point, they were without their #2 runner and ran a tactically perfect race. My guys were pretty dejected, I think kind of expecting that what I said could happen in winning, should and would happen.  In the end we didn’t get it done. The fact we were so green I feel being the reason we couldn’t quite get there. I wrote a piece then explaining why it’s so hard to defend a title no matter who you are. (These articles are linked below)

This past cross country season, the guys won again.  Many of the athletes were the freshmen on that 2015 team that lost; their experience now prevailing in the big race.  On paper you’d have to say we’re the favorite. While the future looks good, (return our #1, #2, #5, #6 and our top guy who was out with injury), it would appear we are now the team to beat in Division 3.

I suppose there could be worse places to be than ranked towards the top of the division.  But being there places a great big X on your back. Teams will sift through results looking for how your guys did.  They’ll try to match up at meets where you run and see what you’re made of. They’ll pull you away from your intended race plans and tempt you to run their race.  They’ll try to convince you to run defensively, protecting that ranking rather than let you run free. Free of certain expectations.

I feel pretty confident in my guys, their experience, their understanding of the program and our goals for the end of the season.  Last year when our top guy went down, they didn’t panic, but became very business-like and focused. They knew they had the tools and how to use them.  But this will be a different crew with different dynamics and with these guys as the high water mark, every other squad is going to be looking to step up and take a shot at that top spot.

The 2018 team is looking at New Englands and beyond.  In order to get this done, they are going to need to forget what the outcomes are at the beginning of the season and stick to the plan that gets us ready for championship season.  They can’t be thinking they need to win every race but focus on the work we need to get done to have a chance come end of the season. They’ll have to perform within the confines of what gets them to where we want to be at the end of the season and see beyond what we’re doing in the early season.

I expect the guys will get challenged by Kearsarge and Campbell.  Kearsarge has a great group of guys and the best coaching in D3. Campbell is on the way up and building a strong program for years to come.  I also expect that there will be a team or two and some individuals that come out and shock everyone because they put in the work and want it.  I’ll be disappointed if they don’t. And I’ll have my fingers crossed that Mascenic will step up to the challenge and not away.

Defending is never easy, and if it was, it wouldn’t be as significant.  Michael Johnson, gold medal Olympian said, “Pressure is just the shadow of great opportunity.” While I don’t enjoy the pressure, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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