Mason Coach Tom Rapp: An Interview By Kailey Zagst

*Both Mason teams as state champions on the podium at the 2022 OHSAA Division I Cross Country State Championship

Photo Credit: Shawn Conlon

For the second time in OHSAA Cross Country history, Mason took home both the boys and girls Division I titles at the state meet this past season. Head coached by Tom Rapp for the boys and Chip Dobson for the girls, both teams were able to stand on top of the podium together for the first time in school history. The only other time that this has happened was when Hilliard Davidson accomplished this feat in 2002. Above the state championship success that Mason has built, a strong team culture lies at the core of the program. Coach Tom Rapp discusses what it takes to build character for his athletes and how this can prepare them for lifelong success.

Building A Legacy

The inspiration for Tom Rapp to come back and coach the boy's cross country team at Mason came a bit after he stepped out of the track and field world for a while. As a high school state champion himself and an All-American at Penn State, he was able to share a lot of the expertise that he developed through coaching and teaching. When Rapp took over as the head coach of the boy's cross country team at Mason 18 years ago, there were around 30 boys and 30 girls on the team. Today, there are over 180 runners within the program.

"Kids see the success and fun and an opportunity to be a part of something kind of special and big. This all drew more into the program." 

At the heart of the program lies strong ties to a culture built upon more than everything taking place on the course. Rapp talked about the importance of solidifying gratification and building upon the success that was seen within the first few years of his coaching career for even bigger things.

"Culture is something that you not only have to build, but also maintain. They are bought into that and the team knows that their job is to pass it onto the younger kids." 

A State Championship Run

Coming into the 2022 season, the boys were the defending state champions and the girls had finished eighth at the 2021 state meet. The boys would be competing for their fourth state championship and the girls would be competing for their third. With the runners that Mason had returning in 2022, Rapp always believed that this was a possibility. 

"We go into the mindset that every year we have the personnel that can compete for a state championship. We do not talk about defending the title, we decide that we are going to go after another one." 

For the boys team, they relied heavily on their depth as they faced a great amount of adversity. Nearly all season, Mason had been missing a key component to their team, senior Keith Neuburger. Neuburger was the top-finishing returner for Mason at the 2021 championships but had been sidelined all season due to an injury. What they did not expect was Mason's top runner, Isaac Schachleiter, to be unable to complete the race after collapsing with less than a mile to go. They had many step up, including Max Liao who was Mason's top finisher at the state meet, breaking the 16-minute mark. The 39 second spread between Mason's first and fifth runner also contributed to the team success.

"That was a testimony to the depth of our team and the fact that every guy has a role and needs to do it well. That is a real credit to their character and how tough they are and how much they want to win."

*Mason runners James Mroczka, Brendan Roe, and Braeden Fedders compete during the state meet.

Photo credit: Shawn Conlon

On the girls side, freshman Efa Paschka played a huge role by finishing 6th in the state, followed by senior Grace McKay who was 8th. The top five all crossed the line under 19:10, adding to the well-rounded group that they have. Next year, five of seven girls on the state meet team from this past season will return, leading to a hopeful future ahead.

*Efa Paschka races to a 6th place finish at the 2022 OHSAA DI State Championship

Photo credit: Shawn Conlon

The Future Ahead

Looking into the future, both Mason teams are looking to keep this tradition going. As a team with a lot of history built, there are a lot of contributors that drive the program that has been created. The passing along of the success often comes from the newcomers who have a goal-oriented mindset.

"A lot of it has to do with the new runners. They want to stand on that podium as well, especially if they went to watch the state meet."

The success within the Mason program comes from a lot more than the amount of championships that they have won throughout the years. For Coach Tom Rapp, there is a big purpose towards preparing athletes for a future beyond running. Many lessons learned in running parallel to the values of life. Within the team mission statement, there is nothing about winning championships or running fast. 

"Our mission statement says that we are seeking to develop hard working, team oriented, and tough racing athletes. In life, they learn to have a great work ethic, put others ahead of themselves, and be able to perform under pressure. Regardless of how many trophies we win, that will define success."