Spring Grove High coach Brian Bahn has been a track coach for nine seasons. Entering his second year as the head boys' cross country coach, it would seem reasonable that his team will be filled with runners he recruited from track.
That could not be further from the truth.
"Only one member of our cross country team is from track," Bahn said. "Most of our runners are wrestlers and baseball players. It's weird."
That makes the fact the Rockets turned in a 15-5 season all the more incredible, especially after finishing a dismal 4-15 in 2011.
Spring Grove's roster was bolstered with the addition of Hunter Miller and Taylor Gardner, both running cross country for the first time. Despite their lack of experience, they both earned spots in the top three of the Rockets' lineup.
"They came out in large part because some of their friends who were wrestlers were successful the previous season and their friends said, 'Hey, you gotta try this,' and they turned out to be pretty good."
The turnaround has earned Bahn All-Area Coach of the Year.
In 2011, the Rockets opened up the season going 0-6. This year was a role reversal. The Rockets started 7-0.
"After we won our first meet and were 4-0, I think they realized they could be good," Bahn said. "This group of guys had never swept a meet. The next week, we were now 7-0 and they did the math and realized they could do something special."
Unlike many other teams in the Hanover area, the Rockets roster did not possess a standout runner. Instead, it was a team defined by consistency, which iw what made the season so special for the coaching staff.
"Each of the top six runners at some point realized that they were contributing to the team doing well," Bahn said. "It happened at different points in the season. When they realize that they are accomplishing something, it is a really cool thing."
One of those "cool things" for Bahn was the vast improvement by a runner he calls the team's unsung hero, Jake Thoman.
Thoman entered the season as a 20-minute runner. By the end of the season, he had gotten his time down to 18 minutes and was contributing to the team score.
The team adopted a motto for the season, "Be like lions."
"Lions sit around in the shade waiting, and when it's time to chase down the antelope, they get the job done and then sit in the shade again," Bahn said. "These guys would want to run around and go crazy, and I just ended up telling them that the training was over. It was race day and we should just sit tight. It wasn't intended to be a motto. It just morphed. They were just able to turn the switch on."
Bahn is quick to deflect any credit of the success of the season to the coaches, saying it was the result of a self-motivated team that also happened to be extremely talented.
With a team full of inexperienced cross country runners, Bahn altered his team's training approach as to try to prevent them from suffering injuries.
"So much of running cross country is efficiency," he explained. "If you are a sprinter, it's about speed. With distance running. it is about using as little energy as possible.
"Training this group of guys was different. If I told them to go train, they would do it and get it done, but they would almost do too much. It is not about pushing this group too hard in practice. It's about putting in a good workout every single day."
Another factor that separated this year's group from runners of the past was it was able to get itself in the right mindset for a race without any input from the coaching staff. If anything, the coaches had to tell the team to back off training a bit.
The Rockets have a chance for continued success in 2013 as their top six runners are sophomores and juniors.
Bahn said, "I am not losing anyone. These guys realize this next year is the best chance to win the division.
"There is no secret to running well. You just have to go out and run miles and miles and miles, and not everyone is willing to do that. We have five guys who can run, but if they want to get better, they are going to have to get out and run the miles."
Bahn is confident they will do that.
"As long as they show up this summer and put in the time that they are talking about putting in, they can be incredible," Bahn said.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 717-637-3736, extension 143. Twitter: @michaelrubin6.