By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline's cross country program had a car wash several weeks ago and coach Mike Tanner decided to order pizza for the team for lunch. Almost every runner was excited for the meal -- except Thomas Madden.
The sophomore brought his own lunch with more healthy foods, including apples. Tanner said the discipline Madden has with taking care of himself is part of what has made him such a standout runner in such a short time.
"He's mature for his age," Tanner said. "Not only does he train and do all the running, but he takes care of his body. He's the total package."
Madden has been running since seventh grade, but his times were never anything special. Even heading into last season, his first year at Skyline, Madden's times weren't spectacular.
According to Tanner, during a 5K last summer, Madden's times were in the 21-minute range. Then last season at the Octoberfest meet at Great Meadow, everything came together for him.
He won the varsity B race and everything changed.
"I just kept improving," Madden said. "That was a big confidence-booster going into the next races."
With each race, Madden continued to get faster and faster. He quickly became the Hawks' top runner.
Madden finished second in the Northwestern District meet, sixth in the Region II meet and 12th in the state meet. The shy and quiet Madden started to come into his own more and Tanner said he's noticed a difference in the team's top runner.
"He's opened up since he first started," Tanner said. "He talks more. He's confident and that's huge."
It would be easy for Madden to have a letdown after such a solid freshman season, but the early signs are that he will only continue to blossom in cross country.
This summer, running the same 5k as last year, Madden ran a 15:28. After that performance, Tanner said he realized the sky's the limit for Madden this season.
"I think he has a chance to win the [state meet]," Tanner said. "I wasn't expecting that this year."
Madden said he's not worried about winning the state title at this point; he just wants to keep getting better.
" I just want to race hard and the PRs will come," Madden said. "And the fast times will come."
Madden and his teammates all have high expectations as a team. The Hawks return their top four from last year's squad, which finished sixth in the Group AA state meet. Madden, Clay Jones, Marshall Eckert and Sean Park all return to lead the way for the Hawks. Eric Moran and Thomas Harrison are also back from last year's team.
Tanner said the bar has been set high for this season.
"I'm excited for the team," Tanner said. "Our goal is to be in the top three. The goal is to get on the podium."
Coach: Melissa Wright
Last year: Finished fifth in the Group A meet
Key returners: Cole Baker, Chris Black, Marshall Brill, Alex Gochenour, Brandon Poff
Key losses: Javier Carreno-Garcia, Joe Nilson, David Savage
Key newcomers: Taylor LaFever, Jason Ruckman
Outlook: The Falcons return a big chunk of their top runners, giving Wright a good reason to be excited for the season. Poff finished 14th in last year's Group A state meet and could be a real contender for a state title this season.
"We have a strong nucleus back," Wright said. "We have a lot of depth. A lot of the guys are very close in ability. I think we can do really well this year."
Coach: Chuck Bowles
Last year: Group A state champions
Key returners: Adam King, Paul Myer, Blake Place, Steven Trayer
Key losses: Harley Biddle-Snead, Colin Brown, Illa Donner, Adam Owens
Key newcomers: Matt Dietz
Outlook: The Eagles not only lost four of their top six, but they lost coach Nancy Specht to retirement. Bowles, who has been an assistant for several years, should be able to keep things flowing for the defending state champions. The program has won the state title five of the last six years, but keeping the tradition going won't be easy.
"We had the top six finishers in the region last year, so we should still have two of the top runners," Bowles said. "The kids are working really hard. They're doing really well so far."
Coach: Mark Stickley
Last year: Finished fifth in the Region II meet
Key returners: Chase Anders, Chris Arslan, Tom Delaney, Will Robinson, Jim Thomson, Buster Wigley
Key losses: Paul Sweeney
Key newcomers: Adam Arslan, Noah Vogler
Outlook: The Judges had 41 runners come out for the team this season. Handley missed qualifying for states by four points last year. With the majority of their top runners back, the Judges should contend for a state berth this year. Delaney finished third in the state meet and should be a contender for the title this season.
"I feel pretty good about our team," Stickley said. "We should be an experienced team. Hopefully we'll be fast and deep."
Coach: Mike Onda
Last year: Finished eighth in the Region II meet
Key returners: Daniel Aldstadt, Blake Armstrong, Cody Barr, Jake Carpenter, Nick Staciak, Jacob Sunderland, Cody Wright
Key losses: David Pugh
Key newcomers: Joe Davet
Outlook: The Colonels return a strong nucleus, but they will have to replace Pugh, who finished fifth in the Region II meet. Onda was optimistic about his squad this year.
"Everybody's running real well," Onda said. "They're showing some real potential. They have good work ethics."
Coach: Kevin Shirk
Last year: Finished third in the Northwestern District meet
Key returners: David Caswell, Ryan Farnan, Warren Ramirez
Key losses: Christian Crawford, Michael Grove
Outlook: Shirk, who has been an assistant at James Wood for the last four years, said his transition has been smooth and he's pleased with the effort his runners have been giving so far. Farnan finished fourth in the Northwestern District meet last year and should continue to improve.
"We definitely have a couple of good freshmen who could help us out this year," Shirk said. "The kids have been great to work with."
Coach: Tim Ritter
Last year: Finished fifth in the Northwestern District meet
Key returners: Berham McDowell, Jake Lewis
Key losses: Brad Hatton, Mike Riley, Eli VanAlsburg, Colin Spangler
Key newcomers: Mitchell Alderton, Antony Han, Devon Newman, Samuel VanAlsburg
Outlook: The Warriors will be extremely young this season. Sherando had 24 runners go out for the squad, including 12 freshmen. McDowell finished 14th in the Region II meet last year.
"We have a lot of work to do," Ritter said. "We're going to have to work really hard to be competitive."
Coach: Mary Clanahan
Last year: Finished sixth in the Shenandoah District meet
Key returners: Jeremiah Hines, Brandon Jones, Braxton Kolb, Jared Lohr, Donnie Sobanko, Will Turner
Key losses: David Elkins, Caleb Golladay,
Key newcomers: Noah Dodge, Andrew Loy, Cody Stout
Outlook: The Generals were hurt late last season with Swine Flu and other injuries. This season, if they can stay healthy, the Generals could be a real factor in the tough Shenandoah District.
"We're really balanced this year," Clanahan said. "We're really excited about the season. We have a lot of depth."
Coach: Jeff Rudy
Last year: Finished fifth in the Region B meet
Key returners: Jordan Bowes, Mark Colson, Sean Heyer
Key losses: Colin Christensen, Patrick Kohlhaas, Dylan Morey
Key newcomers: Dylan Callaway, Anthony Wallis, Jordan Williams
Outlook: The Rams lost the bulk of their top seven, which will make it tough for them to duplicate the success they had last year. With 21 runners on the team, the numbers are good for Strasburg. Clarke County, George Mason and Manassas Park will be Strasburg's biggest threats to the district title.
"Our team is very young and has a lot of experienced runners," Rudy said. "But we have a lot more depth than in years past."
Coach: Jeremy Burnworth
Last year: Finished ninth in the Region II meet
Key returners: Tam Nguyen, Seamus O'Reilly, Kyle Sayers, Clay Southard, Cory Zimmerman
Key losses: Clement O'Reilly
Key newcomers: Tony Morton, Nick Myers
Outlook: The Wildcats have nine freshmen on the team, and doubled their total numbers on the squad (21). O'Reilly finished seventh in the Group AA state meet last year, and big things will be expected of him again this season.
"Since most of the team is inexperienced, the season will be a work in progress," Burnworth said. "But I expect very good things from many of these young men. They have put a lot of hard work in over the summer and will improve as the season moves along."