by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School cross country team has been hard at work the last few weeks as they prepare for the 2018 season. There’s a lot of returning talent on both the boys and girls side, but one member who is not returning is former head coach Sophia Kenny.
Kenny resigned her position as head coach for both cross country and girls track and field at the beginning of August when she accepted a school counselor position in another district.
Daryl Washington and Gary Wallace have been working hard to make sure that despite the loss, the team doesn’t lose any momentum. For Washington, the idea is to challenge his runners each day to push themselves harder than before and to improve both physically and mentally.
“I told them, this year we’re not just going to run, we’re going to race,” Washington said during a recent practice. “You know, go out there and compete. I know they’re excited, so that keeps me excited. Keeps me hungry, wanting to come back every day.”
Washington said that his biggest challenge is to improve the runners mentally. He said that too many times, runners focus on their opponent: What that person’s time is, what their personal record or PR is, and what they have to do in order to beat that runner in a race.
“I have to tell them [to] stop looking at the other teams,” Washington said. “Yes, worry about your races. Worry about sectionals, worry about groups, but worry about it in the sense of you getting better every day and don’t worry about [other runners]. Because [if they don’t] they can be already mentally checked out before they even step on the line.”
Washington is very cognizant that if they stay focused, this could be a big season for both the boys and girls.
Meghan Hessler and Tilly Ferguson will lead the way for the girls, while twins Stefan and Sebastian Urquidi will be key for the boys side.
“They did great things last year, but there’s still room, obviously, for improvement,” Washington said. “So now as the coach, I have to sit down and do the math on my end. Ask what workouts I can do to get them better, what can we do biomechanically to get them better, not just running-wise.”
Each day he needs them to get better, not just physically, but mentally.
Sometimes that includes some mental trickery on Washington’s part.
For example, one day the coach had the team running 400 meter laps on Woodman’s track. However, Washington had them running on the outside lanes, which means they were running further than 400 meters.
Meanwhile, he was pushing them to keep up their mile pace, as if they were running 400 meters. That means when they run a regular mile, it will seem easier. Think less and run more, he said.
“I tell them all the time, you’re an athlete, there’s nothing wrong with being a little crazy. Stop thinking so much and worrying about the math behind everything. Run.”