Wildcats not back to 1990s status, but getting there

J. Patrick Eaken

If there is any sport that Woodmore made a statement in this year, it is cross country. Eight of the nine local athletes who competed at the state meet were Wildcats.
Three Woodmore girls took the top three spots at the Northern Buckeye Conference meet, although Genoa won the meet because of its depth.
Those three ‘Cats were freshman Olivia Vogelpohl, junior Ava Beam and junior Olivia Thatcher. Beam and Vogelpohl both finished an area best league time of 19:53, and Beam is the Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Runner of the Year because she placed the highest at the regional and state meet.
        Beam had the team’s best time at  state, finishing 46th in 19:57 in the Division III girls meet. Thatcher placed 49th (20:05.9) followed by Vogelpohl (63rd, 20:20.5).
On any given day one may do better than the other, and Beam, Thatcher and Vogelpohl like it that way. To get the most out of his athletes, Woodmore coach Mike Moreno tweaked his coaching strategy, believing it would help them at the regional and state meet.
        “This season we focused more on endurance throughout the first two months and didn’t do much speed work until October which was a change for the group and they questioned why their times were a little slower in the first several meets compared to last year’s times,” Moreno said. “I held them back until October when fast times mattered the most. It took a little convincing but they bought into it and it showed from our end of season success.”
        Vogelbeam, Beam, and Thatcher will lead a contingent of seven girls who will return for the Wildcats next year, although Moreno says he will not. Whoever gets to coach these girls inherits a special group that finished 12th as a team at the state meet.
        Moreno and his athletes have brought Woodmore back into the spotlight in cross country. For instance, the girls team won three straight team championships in 1992, 1993 and 1994, and the boys team was in the running, too, finishing as state runners-up in 1994.
        However, Moreno says to bring the program back to what it was in the 1990s is an even bigger challenge.
        “As far as getting back to the tradition of those great state level teams, it’s a tough reach,” Moreno said. “Every season I feel that we are just a couple of runners away from getting back to those type of teams, but back then there were less alternatives to running cross country. With the rise in popularity in other sports we are constantly losing talented runners to our other successful programs.”
        The program is heading in the right direction.
        “Since I took over the reins in ‘08 we have had many regional qualifying boys and girl teams and individuals along with district champions or runners-up going into regionals. But this is my first time both teams qualified for regionals at the same time,” Moreno said.
        “Our girls program has usually had the most success since we are fortunate to have many talented junior high girls who in the last eight years have won or been runners-up at the conference meet and we started competing at the middle school state meet the past four years to give them a taste of higher level competition through the state,” Moreno continued.
        “Our boys team was led by six seniors who believed in my system and gradually improved as a pack with the help of newcomer sophomore C.J. Buchanan, who just got edged from qualifying for state by one place.”
Keeping workouts bearable
        The other Woodmore state qualifier is senior Paul Koenig, who is extra special not only because of his distance running abilities, but because he was a big part of last year’s NBC championship soccer team.
        Koenig was the boys’ top runner all year long, and now he has to consider his collegiate choices.
        “Paul’s success is due to his constant drive to improve and do his best week after week,” Moreno said. “He is our boys captain and leads by example. He is always the last one to leave practice to go over strategy and training tips to get the most out of his performances. Some of the many topics we discuss are his future and past races, ways of staying healthy, collegiate aspirations, whether to try to compete at a smaller school or join a club at a Division I school.
        “We let him know he is talented and driven enough to compete at the next level. His upside is we only train 30 to 40 miles a week so as long as he can handle the gain in mileage that some college programs will expect, he will do well.”
        There is another side to Koenig, which helps keep the training on the lighter side.
        “Outside of running he is a total goofball,” Moreno said. “He makes the tough workouts bearable by keeping atmosphere light and fun. He works hard in everything he is involved in. He is a 4.0 student and a talented basketball and soccer player.”
        Moreno says as cross country coach he has to bring a certain ethic into the program.
        “I am the type of coach who stays grounded in my training philosophies, but am continuously learning new ways of doing things as my athletes change from one season to the next. I regularly attend different types of track and cc clinics, and research training from successful proven programs and coaches,” Moreno said.
        “But most importantly I get and give feedback to and from my assistants and athletes. I constantly let them know ‘why?’ I am having them do a certain workout or run a certain race and let them know the big picture that is the ‘method to my madness,’” the Woodmore coach continued.
        “I always train the athletes with the mindset that we train all summer through October with the goal of finishing our season at the state championship meet.”
        Moreno, who has been the Wildcats’ cross-country coach for 12 years, said he was retiring at the end of this season. He also coached track at Woodmore Schools from 1999-2017, but he has someone he would like to see get the job next year.
        “Keep in mind that this was my final season as head CC coach, but my assistant Lacy Seamans plans on continuing the tradition that she help build when she was a two-time state qualifier in track and four-time state cross country qualifier from 2007-11,” Moreno said.
        If Seamans is hired to take over the girls as they hope to build on their success, he doesn’t see the training changing too much.
        “Next year’s training will most likely stay the same as this year, but with every girl returning next season and a nice pack of talented incoming freshmen, they should repeat as state qualifiers and be even stronger than this year,” Moreno said. “Barring injuries they should challenge for top places in all invites and for the NBC and district titles.

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