No one has dominated the local high school cross-country scene over the past 12 years any more than the York Suburban girls' team.
The Trojans have captured their division title in each of those 12 seasons and have gone undefeated in each of the past five campaigns. Their 188-2 record during the regular season over that span is unprecedented in any sport over a similar time frame.
The funny thing about Suburban's domination is that it doesn't appear to be ready to end anytime soon. Despite some very talented runners that have gone through the program, there are many more that are stepping up right now to fill their shoes.
In fact, at a recent home meet a few weeks ago, all five of the Suburban girls broke their school's course record on the same day. The current holder of that record, Olivia Gettle, actually bested that mark at the following meet and, just for good measure, also broke the course record at New Oxford last week.
That's three course records over a three-race span for Gettle, who along with Samantha Gehly, Emma Leik, Lauren Shrader and Kimberly Hall form one of the most potent 1-through-5 combos in the entire state.
Their coach Dan VanHouwe, who officially took over the reins on the girls' side just prior to last season after serving as a volunteer coach the previous eight years, has set a goal for those five to all place in the top 20 at Tuesday's York-Adams League Meet at John Rudy Park. After that he hopes his girls will continue their roll through the District 3 and PIAA Class AA championships over the ensuing weeks.
We caught up with VanHouwe recently to discuss the program, the Trojans' training regiment and his expectations in this week's edition of Sports Q&A.
What has made the girls' program so successful over the past 12 years?
"Well, first of all, I think you have to give credit to the girls, because they work really hard. Our whole program is based on putting forth the effort. We start back in June for our voluntary workouts and pretty much every year the kids just show up. They want to learn and they want to get better. And a lot of credit goes to the boys' coach, Ron Herman. Well, we actually co-coach. So all year we come up with different kinds of workouts to do, whether they're speed, hills or a combination of them and the kids just do them."
Anything unusual or difficult about these workouts?
"Well the neat thing is that we (coaches) do them. We run with the kids every step of the way. Everything that they do, we do. So we build a nice rapport with the kids that way. It forms a kind of mutual respect. So if I say that I want them to do five hills and I want them to do it hard, I'm going to do it with them right with you. Now Ron Herman is 65 years old and I'm 52 and we tell the kids that we're old, but we're going to do it and we're going to show you that if we can do it, you can do it too at 15, 16, 17-years old."
Is there any difference between the workouts before the season starts as opposed to during the season?
"There's not much difference. We put on quite a good base ... a summer base. When the season starts we concentrate on racing and on different parts of racing. Two weeks ago we had to run at Spring Grove and at Spring Grove they have a nice climb about halfway through the race. So we start with an area (around the school) that's going to give us that same kind of scenario and we'll practice that a couple of times, so when the kids go there, that there's confidence. They've done this in practice and what we did in practice was a whole lot harder than this. So that gives them a lot of confidence to race and race hard."
So would you say that your practices are probably harder on the kids then the actual races?
"That's probably a good statement. You know we go everywhere. We'll practice at the Reservoir (across from York College), at Rudy Park, we'll practice at Rocky Ridge Park, we have the high school, we have our middle school, so we practice pretty much anywhere and everywhere."
How impressive was it that all five girls broke the old course record during the same meet a few weeks ago?
"The new course was created just last year. It's very similar to what we ran back in the early 1990s and 2000s, but we had to make some adjustments due to property and building changes. It's 3.1 miles and it's a challenging course. Lily Corsaro had the record last year, but we only ran there once and that was our first meet. So just a week ago, we had our top five plus a girl from York Tech who all broke that course record. And when you think of who had the course record, Lily really made a name for herself for the last four years. She's running for NYU now as their No. 4 runner. Lily Corsaro was just so good. For those (girls) to break the record that she set was pretty cool."
So who holds that record now?
"Olivia (Gettle) has it now. So she broke it again on a Tuesday and then on Thursday we had to run again and she broke that course record. That is pretty intense."
What's your prediction for Tuesday's league meet at Rudy Park?
"Well, Kelsey Ibarra is the strongest runner in the county. She'll win the race hands-down and she might even win the race by more than a minute. She's from Central and she's a very, very good runner. Very talented. I think that for Suburban that we set the expectation for all seven girls (five starters and two displacers) should all finish in the top 20. That's what I would like to see, but where they finish ... that's up to them. I told them that I'm not going to put any pressure on them and that they just have to run to what they feel that they can. If they do that then all seven girls should finish in the top 20."
Your team wrapped up the division crown fairly early in the season. Has there been any talk around the league to changing the schedule to make the meets inside of the division later in the year?
"Well, they're supposed to work on changing the way the meets are run like that. We've been running Kennard-Dale (which finished second in Division II) first for the last three years and we're supposed to be flip-flopping the meets ... sometimes as the first, sometimes as the second, etc. But I don't know how that works and that would be up to the YAIAA to do that."
Finally, do you have any gauge on where you expect the Suburban teams, both boys and girls, to finish in the District 3 meet on Wednesday, Oct. 24?
"The boys will likely have to compete against Annville-Cleona. I think that's their toughest competition. They'll also have to be worried about Conrad Weiser. On the girls' side for districts, I think it will be between Palmyra and us. We're in Class AA now (Suburban used to be AAA in the past), so for girls, the top three teams will advance to states, while for the boys, I think it's the top four teams. The expectation is that both boys and girls will be there on Nov. 3 for the PIAA meet."
-- Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.