By Kyle LoJacono
Most cross country teams that lose their top three runners expect to take a step back, but the Steinbrenner boys are not like most teams.
Last year, the Warriors won the Class 2A-District 5 championship and finished as the state runner-up in the program’s second season.
“Right after the season we had an award ceremony in the gym and we left with a goal from that night — one better,” said second-year Steinbrenner coach Bobby McConnell, who coached at Gaither in 2009 following eight years at Leto. “The goal for this year is to win state and I think we’re right in the conversation. I think we have a shot because of what the kids have done this summer.”
The squad lost team-captains Alex Newby and twin brothers Matt and Dan Sarver to graduation. All three runners consistently finished 5-kilometer courses in less than 17 minutes.
“There’s been a rumor that we’re rebuilding, but we’re basically reloading,” said junior Zach Lima. “We’re expecting to do well at state. I think we’ve had a great summer. We have eight really great runners and I think we can win state. That’s my goal.”
Zach, whose personal record (PR) is 16:38, is one of the Warriors’ current captains along with twin brother Tyler.
“We got second, so we tasted what it’s like to be on the podium, but we want to take that next step up,” said Tyler, whose PR is 16:35. “This summer there was more getting up early every morning and working harder.”
Rounding out the captain spots this year is junior Chris Cerreta, who has that same confidence as the Lima twins.
“Coming off my freshman year we didn’t do as much running,” Cerreta said. “Last year we did a lot more, and I feel a lot stronger now than a year ago.”
A lot of the confidence comes from a more difficult training regimen this summer.
“This year our coaches have preached to us if you want to win, you have to do the uncommon,” Zach said. “We’ve had a lot of guys out there doing uncommon things and giving it their all. I think it speaks to what our program can be to have 15 kids out there all summer in the heat.”
Zach said some of those workouts stressed running as a team to build camaraderie. It also included running to meet specific times on certain days, going on 10-mile runs on others and also mixing in more workouts to build strength.
Tyler said every one of the runners bought into the increased workload during the summer, with at least 15 of them logging more than 500 miles.
“Last year we couldn’t do the things we’re doing right now,” Tyler said. “We’re pushing that up and we’re also making sure we come back together as a team. We lost a lot of seniors, so we want to make sure we’re a tight team.”
McConnell gives all the credit for the summer program to his new captains.
“I thought we had three solid captains last year,” McConnell said. “I think what we have with these captains is a little bit different style. The other guys were very hard workers, but these guys are all about the running and getting the whole team better. They got the team training this summer, and that’s a big part of being a good captain.”
One challenge for the Warriors is adjusting to a new district and classification — 3A-8 with schools like Gaither, Sickles and Chamberlain.
“Last year we were a large-population school in 2A because of where they put us,” Zach said. “Now we’re running with schools that are just as big as us. It adds to the pressure, but we want to run against the best competition in the state.”
The pressure also comes with expectations from the squad’s state runner-up performance last year.
“It’s really exciting, and it puts a positive type of pressure on you,” Cerreta said. “You’re expected to do well, and it gives you more of a competitive edge. You want to give your school more of a name.”
McConnell relishes that opportunity to make Steinbrenner a place known for its runners.
“It’s been a real joy and I’m happy for the opportunity,” McConnell said. “Coming in I knew the team had a chance to be very good. We probably exceeded my expectations last year. We’re going into it with a totally different attitude this year. I really think this team has the potential to compete for state. We have a great group and that really makes it rewarding.”
The Warriors’ first race is on Friday, Sept. 9 at Ed Radice Park in Odessa.
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