Senior trio eager to lead Hawks boys cross country

Skyline seniors Christian Madden, left, Tanner Steed, center, and Demetry Arnold lead the Hawks' boys cross country team during a workout Wednesday afternoon in Front Royal. Brad Fauber/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The leadership on Skyline’s boys cross country team was easy to spot during practice Wednesday. As the Hawks completed a series of 800-meter runs around the track that surrounds the school’s football field, three faces remained at the front of the pack of nine runners with each and every lap.

It was a familiar workout for that veteran trio – Demetry Arnold, Christian Madden and Tanner Steed – and yet, the three seniors admitted afterward that there’s been a different feel in preseason practice this month.

With the graduation of Luke Cline and Justin Haggerty – two Group 3A state meet qualifiers last season – Skyline’s three seniors now find themselves in charge of a Hawks squad looking to bounce back from what head coach Mike Tanner called a disappointing team performance in the postseason in 2014.

“This year, I mean, it’s different without them and it really reminds us that we have to step up as seniors this year and pretty much fill those spots, just being a good example for the rest of the team,” Madden said. “We’ve got a few young guys on the team, a few guys that have been here before, but as a team we really haven’t done great in the past and I think this year we are looking to do even better as a full team.”

So what are the realistic expectations for a Hawks team that lost its top two performers from a season ago but returns a strong core of experienced senior runners?

“Definitely states,” said Tanner, whose boys team was the Northwestern District champion in 2014 and opens the 2015 season Saturday at Central High School’s 11-team invitational. “We want to go to states as a team. I’ve done the individual thing. I’ll be happy if individuals do go but our goal is to send the Skyline boys cross country team to states.”

Of Skyline’s returning runners, only Arnold reached the state meet with Cline and Haggerty last season, although Steed and Madden did race alongside Arnold and Cline in the Group 3A state track and field championships this past spring as members of the Hawks’ 4×800 relay team.

Arnold, who joined the cross country team for the first time last year, placed 10th in the Conference 28 meet and 39th in the Region 3A East championship before ending his season with an 84th-place showing in the state meet at Great Meadow.

Arnold’s time of 17:55 in the state race was a personal-best mark for a 5K race, Tanner said following the meet last year.

“I was happy that I made it there for the first year running,” Arnold said. “Coming in I didn’t know anything about it, how I would do, and just working towards it and making it there, it made me pretty happy. I guess this year I would like to go to states again, but work a lot harder towards it.”

Steed’s junior season was a little less rewarding.

It began with a hitch as recurring pain and inflammation in Steed’s Achilles tendon hampered him early in the 2014 season. The use of insoles helped alleviate the problem, he said, but later in the season he suffered from a bad cold that was made worse by asthma.

Racing sick during the conference meet at Central High School’s North Street course, Steed – the Hawks’ No. 2 runner for most of last season – placed 23rd and was the fifth Hawk to cross the finish line. One week later, Steed placed 41st in the regional race and narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet for the second straight year.

“It was two years in a row I was out one spot and I’m not going to let it happen this year,” Steed said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Steed said he and his fellow seniors spent the summer training with Cline, beginning their off season work earlier than they did a summer ago. With an emphasis on running more hills, Steed said, the group frequented the sloping trails at Raymond R. “Andy” Guest Jr. Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville.

Madden, who placed 50th at the regional meet last season, said he was reinvigorated following his success with Skyline’s 4×800 relay team, which earned all-state recognition with a seventh-place finish at the state track meet back in June.

“I’m definitely looking to do much better things this year,” said Madden, whose older brother Thomas won the Group AA state cross country meet as a junior in 2011. “I haven’t done great individually in the past and I think this summer really put me in a good position to do good things this year. Put on some good miles and just ready to race, hopefully do really well.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com