The Dawson County High School boys’ and girls’ cross country team started regular season practices Aug. 2.
But the team just didn’t lace up their running shoes and take off down a trail. Under the coaching of successful coach Brian DeRose the team has been training Monday through Thursday evenings all summer.
“We started June 15. We had an average of 25 kids per practice, which is the most we have had in the past four years. So we are looking at having a larger team this year,” DeRose said.
“This is great. We have had a lot of parent interest this year. A lot of middle school interest in cross country, as far as kids coming up to the high school. We are looking forward to a good season,” he added.
The cross country staff has a different outlook about how to prepare runners for their grueling 3.1 miles they have to run at a meet.
DeRose stresses time instead of mileage when training his teams.
“It seems harder to tell a student to go out and run 3 miles instead of just run 30 minutes. Anybody can go out and run for 20 or 30 minutes as opposed to saying go and run 3 miles. It is just easier to give them a certain amount of time,” DeRose said.
Both teams started summer training by doing one hill workout per week in June and July. In August, the coaching staff will increase their number of hills to two per week. They will also concentrate on strength, endurance and speed, hoping that each runner will reach their peak by the end of October. Each runner should be running their fastest at the region meet, according to DeRose.
DeRose coaches both the boys and girls teams with help from two assistants, Chris and John Lundy.
“They have been a huge help. They come to workouts everyday. Chris holds optional practice on Friday mornings at eight in the morning all summer. Having two assistants that are this passionate and dedicated has helped build the program to this point more than any other variable,” DeRose said.
The girls’ team has been very strong for the last four years. Last season the team finished in fourth place at the state meet held in Carrollton.
Once again the Lady Tigers will be led by college prospect Maddie Walters.
She finished in fifth place overall at last year’s state meet. She has looked strong in workouts this summer.
“Maddie is back and a lot of our varsity runners are back. We have some younger kids that are going to be sophomores this year that we got from soccer. So we are looking forward to filling the spots lost by graduating seniors Emily Beusse, Krista Morgan and Kerstin Hlinski.
“The girls should qualify in the top three but it will take a little bit more work on their part. Some of the younger runners are going to have to step up to the gap between Maddie and the number two runner,” DeRose said.
The boys’ team also qualified for the state meet, in a huge surprise, last season. Dawson picked up a 14th place spot in the state meet. Gone is senior Logan Porter but the guys are looking really strong this summer.
“The guys, this year, are looking to be the stronger team. We have got a bunch of kids coming back, which includes sophomore Jon Erickson. Jon is looking to be one of our stronger runners. He had a really good track season. He has been working really hard this summer. Right now he is our top runner. Of course we have Tyler Thurmond, Luke Williamson and Zach Yarbrough returning to the team. We have Sam Wentworth from the soccer team who is also looking really strong. So the guys are looking for a goal of a top three in our region,” DeRose said.
DeRose has an interesting philosophy about why the cross country teams have a successful program at Dawson County: “The biggest thing is that anybody can run. I am kind of proud that we are one of the only sports at the high school that has a no-cut policy.
"My coaching philosophy is that I’m gearing everybody to lifelong fitness. I’m not so worried as much about meet wins or state competitions. I want kids to think whether they are running in college or just out running for fitness after high school that they are striving to use running as a lifelong activity. That is kind of the main goal for cross country.
"I think our numbers are up because [kids] realize that they can just come out and have a good time, work hard and no matter what your ability level is you will be able to come out and compete at some level.”
The cross country teams will run their first meet on Aug. 28 at the Northeast Georgia Invitational in Athens.