High School Sports


CROSS COUNTRY

Nov. 19, 2006

Trinity runners are the best once again

By NATHAN CHAMBERS
BeyondTheDerby.com

Gathered around a table in a corner of Trinity High School’s cafeteria on Thursday afternoon, several cross country runners carefully mulled over the choices for the championship ring that soon will decorate their hands and flaunt the Class AAA title the team won on Nov. 11.

They made it clear to the salesman that they wanted “17” engraved on the ring, reflecting the record number of state titles that the Shamrocks now own in cross country. Even Trinity’s more celebrated football team, which beat Male in the Class 4-A quarterfinals on Friday, has fewer state titles - at least for two more weeks.

Not that many people would know.

“The football team definitely gets a lot more press,” senior Thomas Noel said.

That fact prompted senior Ethan Short to remark, only half-jokingly, “We’re going to have an assembly for the cross country team (Friday afternoon). But I have a feeling that people are going to take it more as a pep rally for the Trinity-Male game.”

Nonetheless, Trinity’s most recent group of championship runners - including Noel, Short, classmates Sean Darrow, Bryan Henn, and Matt Schafer, and sophomores Brian Hancock and Dane Flinchum - and fifth-year coach Chad Waggoner have earned an equal share of the space inside those towering trophy cases in Alumni Hall.

The Shamrocks had five top-26 finishers and totaled 69 points, while Woodford County was a distant second with 141 points. Not since Trinity last won the state title in 1997 had a team triumphed by such a large margin.

“It really came together as perfect as it could have,” Noel said. “It was exciting to see people come in the finish chute in bunches.”

Noel and Short led the way through the Kentucky Horse Park’s five-kilometer course . Noel was fifth in 16:22.14, and Short was right behind in sixth in 16:25.94. Darrow was 17th in 16:48.88.

But Henn and Schafer were most responsible for the rout. They rarely, if ever, had run better, and they finished within a half-second of each other. Henn was 25th in 16:59.81, and Schafer was 26th in 17:00.17.

Schafer credited a new system that had been introduced in the Region Three meet the previous week.

“We thought of a way to stay connected,” he said. “We’d yell to each other. Like, ‘Are you there, Bryan Henn?’ ‘Yeah, I’m here.’ It worked very well, and we did the same thing at the Horse Park. I don’t think I could’ve run nearly as well if I didn’t have Bryan Henn in front of me. I don’t think I could have done it alone.”

Thus did the Shamrocks fulfill the expectations that had been attached to them since the preseason, when they were No. 1 in the Class AAA poll and No. 2 in the Nike Team Nationals Southeast rankings.

“That was our goal from the beginning of the year,” Short said. “We came out as the favorites, and we definitely wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything else.”

Winning the title was a culmination of events on two different fronts.

For one, it ended the season-long training process Waggoner implemented to make the Shamrocks peak in November. So there was no reason to panic when they lost to Woodford County in the Trinity Invitational on Sept. 16 and lost to rival St. Xavier in the Metro Meet of Champions on Oct. 28.

“My dad asked me about that,” Short said. “I just said to him, ‘We’re going to win.’ We always peak at the right time. Coach Waggoner peaks us at the right time. Come state, we always perform better than we have all year. Just like that, we did it again this year.”

More long-term progress also was at work under Waggoner, who joined the program at a time when the Shamrocks hadn’t finished better than fifth in the state in any of the previous three years.

“When I came in, Trinity had lost some of its prestige,” he said. “It wasn’t that the kids weren’t trying. I think the vision was gone. So the first thing I wanted to do was say, ‘You’re capable of winning this.’ That first team bought into it. I’m very grateful to that group of seniors. Had they continued the old habits, these kids never would have had the opportunity. It’s been a work in progress, and the last couple years we’ve been very close."

The Shamrocks finished fourth in 2002, third in 2003 when the current seniors were freshmen, second in 2004, and second again last season.

“It had built up to this moment,” Schafer said. “This is the only time that mattered in the four years we’ve been here. We kept improving and kept improving, but we weren’t good enough until now.”