Stellar second act

Strasburg's Max Middleton runs during the Shenandoah County meet earlier this year. Middleton had a solid season, including an 11th-place finish in the Group 2A state meet.

STRASBURG — It’s difficult in any sport to follow up a strong season with another one, but Max Middleton was able to do that with ease.

The Strasburg junior boys cross country runner finished 13th in the Group 2A state meet, giving him all-state honors for the second straight year. He also helped lead the Rams to a third-place finish in the boys state meet.

“This year has been good for me and then the whole team,” Middleton said. “It’s been a fun ride, and I’m looking forward to cross country next year.”

“Once you set that bar it’s always hard to repeat or even to improve, but he’s done a wonderful job of knowing what’s at stake and continuing the tradition of winning here at Strasburg High School’s distance program,” Strasburg coach Jeff Rudy said. “As he gets older and more mature and wiser, it will be exciting to see what he’s able to accomplish.”

Middleton, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2014 Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, had a lot of success throughout the season. He won the Shenandoah County meet held at New Market Battlefield, and led the Rams to a first-place finish there.

He followed that up with his second straight Conference 35 individual title, also held at New Market Battlefield. Middleton said that was his favorite memory of the season, and the Rams easily won the meet as a team.

Middleton did not have a good outing at the Region 2A East meet and placed 18th. However, he said that he felt that may have taken some of the pressure off of him heading into the state meet.

“When I saw that I placed 18th, I felt like I could be an underdog at state,” Middleton said. “A lot of people thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe Max just peaked’ kind of thing. I could go in there and kick some butt.”

Middleton picked up seven spots in the final mile to finish 13th in a time of 17:08 in the state meet, on a very cold and windy day.

Middleton had suffered an injury in track last year and wasn’t able to finish the season. Strasburg coach Jeff Rudy said it was great to see Middleton come back strong for cross country season.

“For him to come back healthy and become an all-state athlete is just another piece of his running career, and another piece of a running history of Strasburg High School,” Rudy said.

Middleton has already accomplished a lot on his career at Strasburg. He was one of a select few to break the five-minute barrier in the 3,200 in track as a freshman.

Rudy said one of the things that stands out about Middleton is his ability to pace himself.

“This is year 10 as distance coach for me, and he may be one of the smartest runners I’ve ever coached,” Rudy said. “His ability to pace himself and to change strategies during a race to his advantage makes him a lethal athlete, whether it’s on the track or on the cross country course as well. I think it’s a natural ability that he has.”

Middleton said he likes the mental aspects of racing.

“I just focus on the person who’s right in front of me,” Middleton said. “I check out their form and if they’re slouching down or something like that, you know you can take them and move up ahead.”

As a team the Rams had a very strong year with a very young squad. Strasburg only had one senior on the squad. Middleton said he looks at cross country as being more about the team than the individual, and it’s important to do well for your team.

Rudy said Middleton has already had so much success, and he can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

“His running is getting stronger every year,” Rudy said. “Where he can go next year will be exciting to watch.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com