Photo Credit: Charlie Ban, Run Washington
Northwest High School's Elton Quansah spoke passionately about his travels to Ghana this summer. The seventeen-year-old returned to his homeland this summer for the first time since immigrating to the U.S. when he was eight. Yet, through all the excitement of his travels abroad, the guys of the Northwest Jaguar cross country team were on his mind.
Of the expected top seven male varsity runners at Northwest High School, three are African. The varsity runners that are not African are joked to be honorary Africans.
"I was thinking about bringing them back this African shirt called the dashiki so that they can see that we're all one," said Quansah.
The shirts were on display for the first time last night at the Run Washington Pep Rally at Georgetown University. The Pep Rally hosted by Pacers Running Stores and Run Washington Magazine selected Northwest High School as the preseason boys team to beat within the Run-Washington Magazine Maryland coverage area (PG and Montgomery Counties). If Northwest makes any other podiums this year, you can expect to see the shirts, but don't view the vibrant colors of the shirts as a means of attracting attention.
"We are all as one," continued Quansah. "There is no such thing as 'oh, he's not from Africa or he was born somewhere else.' I bought the shirts so that we could all be one. It doesn't matter. We are all a team and we all have the same goals and we're trying to go for the state title."
A quick search on Amazon shows that you, too, could have a colorful dashiki for about $20, but Quansah says that he picked up the seven dashikis for about fifty US dollars in Ghana (~$7 each).
The Northwest running team assembled on the track before the crack of dawn. At 5:45 AM, blurry-eyed runners trotted in the dark through a brisk five minute warm-up, dragging tracks through thick dew on the grass. It was almost chilly at 70 degrees - no doubt the coolest weather in weeks after intense thunderstorms broke up a brutal heat wave yesterday.
Animated head coach Robert Youngblood woke the team up by reminding everyone of his attendance policy. The whole team started the workout by running five steep hills as punishment for various infractions incurred over the weekend, though I suspect that the hills would have been on the agenda even with good behavior.
The top ability group was assigned 5x1 mile around the school's athletic field. The next tier of boys and the top girls ran the same workout at their own pace while the developing runners in a third group ran five shorter repeats of four to five minutes each.
The first rep was fast with the top five boys recording roughly 5:24. Rep #2 was 5:28. The pack thinned out on #3-5 with Komlan Attiogbe maintaining a 5:28 and the #5 man staying within about fifteen seconds on each. The coach tacked on three or four hard 150-meter sprints through grass.
Said junior Chase Osborne, "Today was one of our harder days. We usually don't do five of these. We usually would do three or four then do something else like a little run out."
According to Attiogbe, the workload is noticeably increased this year.
"We started it this year. We're extending every workout, the amount we do and the distance we've been running," he said.
"[Youngblood] likes to make us always end with sprints to get us used to switching gears at the end of the race," added Jose Infante.
Expectations are high for the Northwest boys team which returns six of their varsity seven from a team that finished fourth at last year's Montgomery County Championship Meet. Last year's team was also 3rd at the 4A West Regional Meet and 8th at states which Osborne said was a disappointment. The team is determined to correct the mistakes of last year and do it primarily with pack running.
While Attiogbe led each rep and carried himself as a #1 runner, everyone on the team was insistent that the team has seven #2 runners.
Said Quansah, "We don't have a superstar runner. We have seven #2 runners so we all gotta close the gaps so we can get up there in the top."
Team captain Rory O'Neil spoke on the team's goals.
"We're looking at very high in the county..." said O'Neil.
His teammates interrupted and corrected him by insisting that the goal was to finish first in the county.
"...Yeah, first. Same with regionals. And states...top three or better."
Youngblood echoed those goals.
"The goal is to be top three in the state," said Youngblood. "If we are good, we have a shot at states...we have six or seven #2's. If they are all within 10 seconds of each other, we're good. If someone separates later in the season, that's fine, but we're not trying to run with Rohann or nothing stupid like that."
The Northwest girls finished eighth in the 4A West Regional in 2014 and 2015, therefore missing the state meet by one spot two years in a row. When asked about the girls team prospects in 2016, Youngblood first shook his head thinking about those eighth place teams, but he spoke confidently about this year's team.
"They know this is going to be the year," he said. "We are going to finish top ten in the state. We got the same core group we had last year and we are going to be better. I am going to teach my newbies to run."
Senior team captain Sofia Zarate was the obvious leader in warm-ups and the workout. A senior named Brooke Mandell who is new to the team was the clear #2. She is expected to boost last year's 8th place regional team that returns all of its varsity members.