Lakewood cross country builds physical, mental strength

Lakewood cross country has a long history of success, which includes four consecutive Cascade Conference championships and counting. Cougar harriers perform well at the district level as well and are regulars to the state meet.

With such a rich tradition of excellence in the boys program, one wouldn’t have guessed this year’s squad was training under a new direction and focus.

After the Nov. 1 district meet where the Lakewood boys secured their spot in the state meet, they obviously seem to follow the footsteps of their predecessors. But their road to that ultimate goal of reaching the state meet and ultimately winning has not been the same.

Lakewood coach of six years, Jon Murray, explains that he and fellow coach Jeff Sowards “realized the last couple of years that (they) were letting the kids down by not getting them ready for the end of the season. Before, a lot of kids were having their better races early on in the season. (They) weren’t getting them ready for when they needed to be at their best, which is for championship time.”

The coaches sit down after every season to re-evaluate what worked and what did not. Because every year has a different team, they’re always in a state of change when it comes to preparing the athletes. This year, the coaches also had to factor in the recent addition of Whatcom County schools like Squalicum and Bellingham into the 2A division that Lakewood has dominated.

In order to stay competitive Murray said, “We needed a different training strategy, a different workout to stay with those teams and also with teams that are improving in our conference as well.”

Training this season has incorporated the basics. More tempo- and strength-based workouts benefit the team later when they want to be their best. As a result, many Lakewood cross-country athletes have been able to move up positions, and finish races stronger than ever. With the team having a different training style, one might expect the differences to end there between this team and Lakewood teams in the past. But Murray, a Lakewood cross country alum himself, personally believes this team is the closest he has ever coached or participated in.

He added, “The leadership is absolutely amazing this year, and that has brought both the girls and boys together. That’s the stuff that kids are going to remember later on. Not their times, or what place they got in, but what memories the team has created for itself and the amazing relationships they made.” Coach Sowards always talks to his athletes about leaving a legacy. Murray knows.

“The upperclassmen this year has made their legacy through their leadership. Now the younger kids will carry it, and follow in their footsteps,” he said.

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