Cross country running is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports one can find.
The cross country athletes, teams and coaching staffs are usually lost amongst all the hype of the football and basketball seasons, but Woodbridge High's cross country teams have made noise, and a lot of people are taking notice.
The Woodbridge girls' team, led by Nicole (Coco) Evans, qualified for the CIF state meet after finishing second in CIF Southern Section Division III Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College. The Warriors won the Pacific Coast League.
The Woodbridge boys' squad, led by Dillon Scott, finished second in the Pacific Coast League meet.
The Warriors cross country programs are perennial powers, and The Daily Pilot caught up with the man behind it all, Coach George Varvas, who gives a few pointers on how to create and sustain a successful program.
Question: What traits do you look for in a potentially successful cross country runner?
Answer: We really do not have any specific traits that we look for. Anyone with the interest in running and wanting to experience high school sports is welcomed to our team. If they can walk and chew gum at the same time it is even better. We accept everyone that wants to give running a try. Six of my current varsity runners on the girls' team ran in the 22-24 minute range as freshmen. They did not show any potential to becoming successful runners at all. They are all running under 19 this year. You never know what the athletes will eventually develop into so we do not have any specific traits that we look for. As long as they are willing to do work and have self discipline, it is good enough for us.
Q: Cross country is both a mentally and physically challenging sport, what safety precautions are taken with each runner?
A: Each runner is challenged physically and mentally. Obviously we start slow with them. In terms of running, they will start off at maybe 1-3 miles and keep them that way for at least two weeks and then increase their distance very slowly until they are ready for longer runs. They do body strengthening things like sit-ups, push-ups and weights to get stronger. In terms of the mental approach, no pressure on them to perform at a certain level too soon. We like to see that they enjoy the races and let them start making goals for themselves. We try to keep their goals realistic.
Q: Your squads are always highly ranked, what factors help make a successful cross country program?
A: We feel that we have training philosophy/programs that include all the major components needed to help the athletes improve and perform well in the meets.
Our coaching staff is knowledgeable in the training and in the handling of these young adults.
Winning attitude. Our first few teams at Woodbridge were successful and all the other teams want to match the previous year's accomplishments. Our teams want to do well individually and as team.
Making running fun by adding social activities like Juice Club runs, team dinners, etc.
Taking trips (Hawaii, Mammoth, etc.) occasionally as a team.
Luck in who decides to join our team.
Q: When you coach, are you coaching each individual runner, or are you trying to motivate them as a team?
A: We do both. We know that if all the individuals reach their potential as runners, our team will be the best it can be. However, to get each individual to train toward becoming the best they can be, the team goals help the individual focus better.
Knowing that the team is depending on a certain runner helps that runner train harder. At times, if the individual was the only thing that mattered, an individual runner could slack off knowing that they will only let themselves down. The team is much more powerful than the individual.
Q: What does the future hold for Woodbridge cross country?
A: We have a very good group of frosh/soph athletes to go with returning varsity runners for next season. All four girls will return and we will have 5-7 new runners trying to take a varsity spot away from the current ones. On the boys' side, we lose two of our top five to graduation but we have some pretty good possibilities for replacement. I think we will be as good if not better.
Q: What advice would you give a young athlete who was considering getting involved in cross country?
A: Be patient (it takes a long time to get used to running distance and developing the strength needed) with expectations. It is a long journey. Use a good pair of shoes and avoid overworking when starting out. Have fun so that running will not get stale. Learn as much as possible about running and competing. Read books about runners and about training.