Six weeks ago at the YAIAA track and field championships, William Penn's Greg Freeland looked down the blocks before the 100 meter dash finals to see West York's Abdul Junaid and thought, "rival."
Freeland's view hasn't changed as he watches the Bulldog he beat by only .03 seconds set up in the blocks, but his interpretation has. As teammates for the upstart York Blazers — an elite track team brought together by Susquehannock assistant coach Crystal Stein — Freeland realizes he and Junaid have a lot to learn from each other.
"We push each other to make sure we get the best out of each other," Freeland said. "He's my teammate and I want to see him in the national meet with me. That's our goal."
That's exactly the sort of collaboration Stein envisioned when she created the team she'd always coveted as a high school athlete at Susquehannock, where she graduated from in 2006. Stein later went on to run for Monmouth University and is joined by Dallastown assistants Tramont Evans and Andrew Langston on the coaching staff.
"It's completely different than the experience of coaching a high school team, where you have 50 sprinters and half of them aren't invested," she said. "Every kid here wants to get better. They are used to being the best on their teams and now to do that, they have to push twice as hard."
This spring, Stein sent out fliers and set up tables at major invitationals to enlist York County's best sprinters and hurdlers to compete in AAU and USATF meets all summer. Fifteen athletes from six schools signed up for a summer of five-day-a-week workouts that began three days after the conclusion of the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the athletes spend three grueling hours on the track at West York High School, then lift weights together Tuesdays and Thursdays. The workouts are not for the faint of heart.
"Fun moments? There haven't been many fun moments at practice," Dallastown hurdler Owen Ritter said with a laugh. "It's pretty terrible."
Ritter has appreciated the hard work, though. Like each member of the team, he had to cover a $500 fee to join, and hopes to be in action with the squad through the beginning of August when national meets take place.
To do so, he had to abandon a planned bike ride through Ohio with his cousin and grandfather, then returned from a mononucleosis diagnosis in two weeks to begin training.
Dallastown's Haven Evans said everyone has sacrificed a lot to be part of the team.
"My summer, in general," she said, giving an example. "It's just sleep, eat, track."
The workouts have already begun to pay off for the area elites. Red Lion's Angelica Gonzalez, who was a PIAA runner-up as a freshman in 2012, said she joined the team to learn from a Division I track athlete and has not been disappointed. She has already experienced more explosive block starts as a result.
"They're focusing on technique and fixing things I didn't even know needed to be fixed," Gonzalez said. "They've helped so much with my form in general, and taught me about being smart during a race."
This summer, the team was limited to sprinters and hurdlers, as Stein gauged interest in the team. Next summer she hopes to add field events, although she said cost was an issue. Already, it is costing the team $50 per day to use West York's track, and said she assumed there would be additional cost for using the sand pits and throwing platforms.
The team received assistance from Flying Feet Sports Shoes for jerseys, and Stein said any donations for the club are welcome.
"From this weekend through July 10, we have overnight trips every weekend," she said. "Some kids and their families can't afford stuff like that. We're looking for creative ways to find housing and transportation, but every little bit helps."