Oak Hills Boys Cross Country Team Preview

A few weeks ago, MileSplit Ohio contributor, Andrew McPherson tracked down Oak Hills boys coach, Nick Continenza to discuss his team's aspirations for the 2020 cross country season. 

MileSplit Ohio: How effectively was your team able to prepare for the season given all of the new COVID guidelines?

Coach Continenza:

As I am sure most coaches will agree, cross country was pretty lucky compared to other sports. The nature of our sport allowed us to adhere to COVID guidelines and keep our athletes safe without much disruption to business as normal.  We avoided using the weight room and didn't get a chance to do most of the fun team building events that we normally would over the summer, but our guys weathered these disappointments with grace.  New protocol like wearing masks, staying apart from either other at practice, etc. was no issue for our team.  They adapted quickly and were all onboard for making sure we didn't lose our season like we did in the spring.

MileSplit Ohio: As a team what are your goals for this season?

Coach Continenza: 

Finishing in the top 3 at the GMC Championships and qualifying as a team to the regional meet are our big end of year team goals. It is also a focus of ours for each guy to do what he can to prevent stress related injuries.  This year, we have also been living by the mantra, "what can I do to make sure I don't ruin the season for myself or my teammates" in regards to COVID related protocols.

MileSplit Ohio: Your athlete James Schmidt recently broke your school record in a time of 15:42.3. Were you surprised at all by this performance?

Coach Continenza:

No, this was not a surprise. James' performance of 16:10 the week before was close to a lifetime best, on a day when most guys didn't run well.  Lebanon's course, where he broke the record, doesn't have a history of being slow and the weather that morning was nice and cool.  In addition, he ran a lifetime best for 3200m in a road time trial a few weeks earlier of 9:32.  James also owns the 800m school record at Oak Hills in 1:56.34.  We have high hopes that he will rewrite all 5 distance records before he his time is up (CC, 3200, 1600, 800, 4x800).  We knew James was ready to drop something fast. 

He has been extremely focused the last couple years and he reminds us, through his actions on a daily basis, that he intends to achieve all of his goals. If we graphed James' progression as a racer throughout his career, the trendline would be a nice smooth positive slope.  That is to say, he just keeps getting steadily faster, regardless of outside stressors.  He didn't start out as an instant state level standout, but his work ethic, refusal to give in to excuses and stoic approach to competition has placed him on a trajectory for everyone to know his name by the time he graduates.  

(Oak Hills senior, James Schmidt further lowered his high school 5k pr at last weekend's Milford XC Invitational, where he dropped a 15:35.20 clocking)

MileSplit Ohio: What meet are you most looking forward to for this season?

Coach Continenza:

As is the story with most teams, our schedule was heavily impacted by the cancelation and size limitations of various meets. We are very thankful to the coaches who have put in countless hours of work to maintain their meets.  Honestly, we look forward to just getting a chance to race every weekend, especially after not getting a track & field season last spring.  If there is one meet that we anticipate more than the others, it is the GMC Championships.  The tradition of strong competition in the GMC runs deep and it is impossible for a racer to avoid getting caught up in the intensity and competitive spirit that permeates through the field on that day.  

MileSplit Ohio: What makes your program unique from other others in the state?

Coach Continenza: 

I'm not sure I can accurately compare our team to others in the state. However, I feel that our program is uncommonly close-knit.  The Oak Hills team is a place where everyone belongs; even if they don't at first, each guy is quickly pulled into the fold.  Each member is treated fairly with respect and bullying and hazing have no place in our team culture.  In a normal year, our guys enjoy each others' company in frequent non-practice gatherings: team dinners, movie marathons (usually Star Wars), fantasy football league, Nerf war, canoeing, paintball, and overnight cc camp.  I am confident that a lot of these guys make friends for life on our team.  When seniors shed tears at the end of their final season, it is one of many reminders to me that they were part of something special.