Only a week and a half into the academic year, the St. Andrew’s boys’ cross country team is already on pace for another fine season. Having run three races over the course of nine days, the Lions currently sport a record of 8-2. Joe Peterson has set the tone for the team along with his fellow captains John Taylor and Bob Jeffery. Although the team lost four of its top seven runners to graduation, they return with a talented young squad made up largely of freshmen and sophomores, including sophomore standout Tom Belikove. Of the 28 runners on the team, 21 are either freshmen or sophomores. To date, the varsity top seven has included anywhere from three to four underclassmen in its ranks. Coach Mike Davila is excited by the impact made by the strong ninth and tenth grade classes, but recognizes that such youthfulness for his defending Maryland Independent Small School State champions may present some challenges this fall.
“We have three or four freshmen who have shown the kind of potential that may find them running in the top seven for us on a consistent basis. While that’s great for the future of the program, I don’t like the fact that such inexperienced, young runners may have to be counted upon to carry such a heavy load when it comes to the championship meets.” says Davila. “But that’s our reality this season. They may be thrown into the fire early. But I have great faith in our senior captains as well as our juniors to bring the young guys along.”
Another challenge for the Lions this season comes from the fact that their only two losses so far have come from league competition. Two time defending MAC champions Georgetown Day School are a squad deep in talent. The Potomac School also boasts two of the league’s top runners as well as a resurgent program. “We definitely have our work cut out for us,” claims Davila. ”Our goal though, as it has always been, is to be in the hunt. We’ve done that pretty successfully the last three years and hope to do it this season as well. GDS and Potomac have already taken it to us, but we’ve got a resilient and tough group of guys. I have no question that our runners will be competitive when it counts.”
Davila’s optimism is based on the fact that he’s got three runners who should be able to go head to head with Georgetown Day and Potomac’s top three. Coming off an excellent junior year which saw him nab All-MAC honors as well as the individual state crown, Joe Peterson possesses the kind of talent that should find him competing with GDS’s Jason Campbell and Potomac’s Johns Ross for top honors at the MAC championship in late October. Peterson and Belikove teamed up at the Episcopal Relays to win the race just edging out a strong GDS duo. Peterson also has already clocked a 10:28 on the track in the rain at Bullis. With Belikove, Peterson and the Lions have a significant one-two punch.
Belikove, an All-MAC and All-State runner as a freshman, is back in fine form this season. He’s already ahead of his times from last year at an early point in the season and is capable of a top five finish at the league meet. It is Belikove’s sophomore compatriot Dylan Thayer though who has been the nicest surprise thus far. A summer of serious training has paid off for the goal-oriented Thayer as he has solidified his position as the Lions’ number three man. In 2005, Thayer had been St. Andrew’s ninth or tenth man. This season, however he has the makings of an all-league runner. In tandem, St. Andrew’s top three present a considerable force.
St. Andrew’s success this season will depend in many ways on how its numbers four through seven runners come through. Thankfully for Davila, he has nine runners who should be competing for those spots. Senior captain Bob Jeffery, an all-league runner as a sophomore and St. Andrew’s sixth man in 2005, was sidetracked this summer by illness, but has methodically been fighting his way back into the top seven. His experience should prove valuable as the season progresses. John Taylor, the other senior captain and the Lions’ top 1 or 2 Varsity B runner last year, has consistently been a top five runner this fall. Junior Chase Felker, too, has moved in to the top seven and has the potential to be the pivotal fifth man. Veteran Colin Gray, a junior as well, will be counted upon for his leadership and experience on both the Varsity and Varsity B squads.
Sophomore Pablo Galicia-Almanza, one of the team’s finest natural distance runners, is primed for a breakout season. If Galicia catches fire, he, too, could be a consistent top five performer.
It is however from one of the most athletically talented ninth grade classes to pass through St. Andrew’s in a long time that may well hold the key to St. Andrew’s success this year. A group of physically gifted and competitive freshmen may well leave their mark on St. Andrew’s cross country for the next four years. Three freshmen have already cracked the top seven in meets this fall. Ben Naughton, after a summer of solid training, has the kind of desire that should carry him far in the sport of cross country. David Sturgeon, too, has shown himself to possess both a combination of talent and desire to be one of the Lions top runners in the coming years. Kevin Wyatt, a natural athlete, is competitive and confident enough to hold his own with his more senior teammates. These three athletes along with their ninth grade classmates Daniel Parker, Chaz Griffen, and Elliot Silverman form the bulwark of St. Andrew’s future program.
The combination of experience and young talent gives Coach Davila moment for pause. “My expectation for these guys is always, as it should be, success. We’re going to face some obstacles along the way as we already have, but let’s face it, we’re lucky to have some very talented runners and a group of young guys chomping at the bit to make their mark on this team. Whether we win this season doesn’t matter as much to me as whether these guys progress and work hard to live up to their potential. If we do that, we’re going to be fine.”
The Lions next race at the William & Mary Invitational this Saturday, September 23rd, in Williamsburg, VA.