SPRINGFIELD TWP.  They’ve said goodbye to three solid senior classes in a row, but the Springfield Spartans believe they can maintain their recent level of cross country success this fall.

Since head coach Kevin Gorby arrived at the school about five years ago, the cross country and track programs have shown solid progress and as a new season dawns, it’s one coaches and athletes believe will show that they’ve built a program that can keep on chugging even with talented seniors graduate.

“We just had our first meet and it’s easily the best start we’ve ever had in Springfield history,” Gorby said. “We came out of gate strong with our boys team, led by our young guys and the new guys absolutely flew.”

Gorby noted that from year to year, the team has dropped “minutes off our times” and traces that improvement to the development of the district’s running programs from the elementary school level on up.

While there was interest in cross country when Gorby arrived, a large percentage of those who came out hadn’t run for long and were fairly new to the sport. They were able to make progress within the course of a season, but didn’t have the depth of running experience that the freshmen coming into the program now have developed.

“It’s night and day … our athletes can run and compete with anyone. Our middle school program is around us when we go to invitationals and they see the work we do,” Gorby said. “We have battle-tested individuals … they understand and see intensity. When I first started here, we had a ton of kids on team who might not be runners or racers, but wanted to participate. Our kids now are not just there to participate, but to compete and win.”

The opening meet of the season came at the Hoban Dick Malloy 3K Invitational at Goodyear Heights Metro Park, where all five runners on the boys team placed in the top 56 of 150 runners. Sophomore Blake Hillyard (22nd) and freshman Carter McCollum (39th), who has show promise coming up through the youth and middle school programs over the past few years, led the way for the Spartans.

“The sky’s limit for this crew and they’re aiming to compete in the league,” Gorby said. “Our runners put in a lot of work this offseason and you can tell it has paid off.”

The girls team had a solid outing at the same meet, with all five of its runners in the lineup finishing in the top 42 among 150 runners. Natalie and Cassidy Phillips both cracked the top 30 in 16th and 28th places, respectively, while Eden Amador-Gorby wasn’t far behind in 33rd. While the meet was unique because it was shorter than the 5K distance for most cross country races, getting out of the gate fast was nonetheless encouraging for Springfield

Finding the mark for which to aim isn’t difficult; Portage Trail Conference rival Woodridge has dominated the league in track and cross country for more than a decade and claimed both the boys and girls Division II state championships last season.

“That’s what I’ve been sitting in front of the computer working on for hours now, seeing what other teams have lost to graduation and attrition and how we stack up,” Gorby said. “The last three years, we lost 27 seniors from the boys team. Woodridge … we know what they’re capable of winning state championships last year and we aim for them like everyone else, but our focus is more on regular improvement.”

In cross country, the veteran coach noted, a team doesn’t need a long list of high-end athletes to succeed. Five runners count toward a team’s score for a meet and if Springfield can get its top runners to run at the level of which Gorby believes they’re capable, then the Spartans have a chance to deliver another round of good results on the course this fall. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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