Boys cross country: Senior trio leading way for Crown Point
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent October 8, 2012 11:26PM
Crown Point's Daniel Walters starts the race at Lemon Lake on Tuesday, August 21, 2012. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 10, 2012 6:21AM
CROWN POINT—They’ve all been here before.
The Crown Point senior trio of Alex Ray, Daniel Walters and Tom Cierniak have a total of eight state meets of experience between them. And they’ve all picked up on tips to help them in the cross country postseason, which starts this week.
“Don’t be intimidated by the huge crowds or get sucked into what everyone else is doing,” said Ray.
Added Walters: “It’s not about time, it’s all about your placement.”
“You just have to treat these meets like any of the others,” said Cierniak. “You just have to do what you’re used to doing. That’s how you get the best result.”
Lessons learned helped the Bulldogs jump from 24th at the 2010 state meet — “Dead last,” as Ray pointed out — to 16th in 2011.
“We were satisfied,” Cierniak said of the 2011 state meet. “It was much better than the year before.”
Now, these three Crown Point runners have their eyes set on another deep run into the postseason. And, in the process, they’ve made head coach Keith Iddings’ job a lot easier.
“It’s phenomenal to have them,” he said. “The younger kids see what those guys are doing to be successful and I think they’re understanding what it takes to be that good. And to have three guys providing that example is three times as nice.”
Iddings said he knew he was getting at least two talented runners with this class, as Ray and Walters were both excellent runners in middle school. Cierniak was more of a late bloomer, with his race times as a freshman averaging about 22 minutes. By his junior year, though, Cierniak was in the sub-17 minute range, alongside his two classmates.
“Alex and Dainel were both excellent middle school runners,” recalled Iddings. “Tom was more of a participant than a competitor. But he made the biggest jump. He realized that he needed to be running with those two guys at practices.”
Even with all of their experience, a little confidence boost never hurts, and all three agreed that results from the New Prairie Invitational in late September did just that. They took fourth overall in the team standings, with Walters (16:14, 13th place) and Ray (16:17, 16th place) leading the way.
A key in that race, and the whole season, has been their ability to travel in packs.
Said Cierniak: “We’ve focused a lot more on staying together, not running as individuals.”
It’s a tactic that has been battle-tested against some of the top talent in the state.
“All season, we run against good teams and good individuals,” said Ray. “So we have to train just as hard to keep up with them or to try and beat them.”
This week will be the beginning of the final postseason for these three Bulldogs, and they’ve all listed goals of placing in the top 15 individually at the state meet and a trip to the podium as a team.
Their coach said some mental fortitude will be a big help in their postseason push.
“I hope they’ve learned that, if they put their mind to it, they can accomplish things that other people don’t think are possible,” Iddings said.