Chucks have younger team, same team goals

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsy's boys' cross country team will kick off its 2011 season Saturday at the Big Valley Boys Invitational.

Last year, head coach John Smith had a strong team highlighted by a dual meet victory over Bradford, which Smith called "the team to beat."

This season, though, will be a change for the Chucks.

"It's going to be a totally different type of team," Smith said. "We have some experience, but we're going to be highly trying to utilize some underclassmen, so we're counting on everybody this year."

The Chucks will be led by a three-man senior core consisting of Dane Baker, Derek Kelly and Shane Johns.

"They maybe learned from A.J. Meterko (a graduation loss), who has been a leader for the last couple of years," Smith said. "Being around him, they've learned to lead, and I think they'll be good leaders. They'll have the best interest of the teams, and I think they're going to help some of the younger kids."

Punxsy's season will begin with a scrimmage today against Indiana, where Smith will be hoping to see the different strengths of his team.

"Early in the season, it's tough to get a judge of your team because you really don't until you get into a race or two, ... and you can actually see them in race conditions," Smith said.

Smith said one of his big-gest goals throughout the first couple races will be to get his team to run closer together, so as to increase team scores.

He also said he has been trying to get the kids adjusted to hard workouts.

He said he hopes to have his team build and grow in a natural way.

"The key this year will be trying to be very careful to bring them along in a very progressive manner and trying to get the less experienced to step up a bit," Smith said. "Because we have a small squad, the thing that will help us the most is if we can go injury free and progress naturally,... we feel we can be pretty competitive at districts."

Because of the lack of runners and of seniors, Smith said he will be counting on his five-man freshmen core.

"We have a good group of freshmen runners, and they just need experience and some strength," Smith said.

Smith said he will also be counting heavily on Luke Fugate, a sophomore who performed well in both cross country and track-and-field last year. But Smith said he was not necessarily looking for any one person in particular to perform, but rather he wanted a full-team effort.

"Every single person on our team will be counted on," Smith said. "I think you'll see very early on, it's going to be an all-or-nothing season."

Smith said there is a misguided thought that there is an advantage to cross country because the runners can theoretically practice on their own.

"The bottom line is that its tough," he said. "I've never, in my 40 years of coaching cross country, had a runner tell me that this sport is easy. ... It's tough to train on your own; it's a matter of focusing on what you need to do. I let them enjoy their summers, and now its time to work. I think they're finding out this first week, it's going to get tougher."

Smith said he is excited to start the regular season off with the Big Valley Invitation held in Reidsville. He said it has always been a very competitive meet, and this year there will be 30 teams there.