St. Xavier - Project 2012 A Truly Special Season

"Project 2012." "Our team doesn’t have a clear #1 runner."  "We were successful this year because we had a large group of runners extremely close in time, willing to push each other to improve every day."  In their own words, the perfect description for St. Xavier's Cross Country season.  2012 Division 1 OHSAA Boys Champions scoring just 71 points with their top 5 runners seperated by only 17.83 seconds.  9th at NXN Championships with only 35 seconds seperating their five scorers.  They didn't simply run with each other as a team, they ran for each other.

The Team

Alex Kuvin Senior  1st man at NXN, 37th team & 60th overall  18:14.     4th man OHSAA State, 17th team & 30th overall  15:54.68

Michael Hall  Junior  2nd man at NXN, 39th  team & 62nd overall  18:17.    3rd man OHSAA State, 15th team & 24th overall  15:52.55

Evan Stifel   Junior  3rd man at NXN, 41st team & 67th overall  18:21.    5th man OHSAA State, 19th team & 32nd overall 15:56.59

Jake Grabowski  Senior  4th man at NXN, 64th team & 102nd overall 18:46.    1st man OHSAA State, 6th team & 9th overall  15:38.76

Michael Momper Senior  5th man at NXN, 70th team & 108 overall  18:49.     2nd man OHSAA State, 14th team & 22nd overall  15:50.03

Patrick Drumm  Senior  6th man @ NXN, 83rd team & 122nd overall  18:57.     6th man OHSAA State, 39th team & 64 overall  16:16.49

Andrew Gardner  Senior  7th man at NXN, 114 team & 156th overall  19:26.    7th man OHSAA at State, 44th team & 73rd overall  16:22.93


OHRunners:  What was the experience like at NXN? 

Kuvin: The Nike Cross Nationals experience was incredible. I had a fantastic time with my teammates the entire trip. Nike treated us like royalty and it was an experience I will probably never forget.

Hall:  The experience was incomparable to anything that I have dealt with during the course of my running career. The atmosphere was unlike anything else. While we were there, we knew that we were amongst other runners and that this was a place where we were accepted and belonged. I wish we had the opportunity to stay longer and experience more. It's almost as if NXN is a drug, I'm having withdrawals and I'm craving wanting to be there again already even though it is another year away. I know that this may be a tad bit presumptuous, but I can't wait to be back again next year with our 2013 team!

Stifel:  The experience at NXN was truly unforgettable. At the beginning of the season, are last goal was to qualify to NXN. At the time, none of us actually knew how good of chance we had. It was just a fun idea to think about. When we won state and finished 3rd at Nike Midwest, we realized we had a great chance of qualifying. The 2 week wait in between was full of stress and nerves, but I think that is part what made qualifying so special. Now that I think about it, I'm actually glad we were one of those bubble teams. Being there was just plain awesome. Everyone was nice and we were treated like royalty. It is something I will never forget.

Grabowski:  The experience at NXN is one of the best of my life. You get to spend a weekend with your team and get to meet dozens of the best teams in the country, which is just a blast for everyone!  On top of that, Nike treats you like royalty between giving out gear, introducing you to famous athletes, and providing the most exciting race in the country.

Momper:  NXN is an excellent experience, certainly the best trip i've ever had. The 2 things I found most exciting were, first of all, that no one there is an untalented runner. This adds to the challenge: hundreds of passionate runners who really belong there and all have the same goal. Second, it was incredibly exciting to meet teams from all over the US, talking with them about anything from their training to their weather to their favorite movies, knowing that each team had a story and a place was very cool.

Drumm:  I could not have dreamed up a better ending to my high school cross country career. Nike has done a spectacular job creating a weekend filled with unforgettable moments for the runners. From the moment I arrived in Portland, I was overwhelmed by the experience. To spend three days with the best high school runners in the nation was already an honor. Then, Nike went above and beyond by inviting NCAA national champions and Olympians to spend time with us and talk with us. Not only was the weekend an incredible opportunity to learn, but it was also fun. My favorite part about NXN is that it rewards runners for their dedication to the sport, by giving them an opportunity to tackle one of the most difficult courses in the country and the chance to leave it all out there in the last race of the season.

Gardner:  The experience was incredible! Never once was there a meet and all the pre-meet stuff that was this great. From the moment I stepped off the plane till we left the Embassy Suites, I had one of the most memorable experiences in my life.


OHRunners:  What were your individual and team expectations getting prepared for the race?

Kuvin:  Going into this race my teammates and I were uncertain of what to expect, being the first time any of us, or any team from St. Xavier had made it to NXN. We did know, however, that if we ran a good race, we had at least a shot at the top 10, so we prepared like we would any race; ready to put it all on the line. For me personally, I have always been good at setting goals for myself, so even for a different experience such as this race, I did my research and put forth the goals of top 100 in the race and top 50 scoring. 

Hall:  Honestly, I just wanted to go out there and have fun. I knew that I wouldn't win the race individually, but I did know that I had to go out and run a strong race like I always do and compete to the best of my abilities. From a team standpoint though, we really wanted to go out there and show the country what we had and that we weren't just a lucky team who qualified only because we had an at large bit and were voted in. We wanted to actually show that we were good and that we have been working hard the whole season for this opportunity.

Stifel:  My personal expectations were to finish higher than I did at Midwest and just have fun racing. To my surprise, I accomplished both. It was hard to think about finishing higher place wise at a higher caliber meet. I was very happy with my race. Our team goal was to get top 15 and to find out we got 9th was amazing. Top ten kind of seemed a little out there, but we rose to the challenge exceeded our expectations.

Grabowski:  We were very much cognizant of the fact that the field of competition was far and away stronger than any we'd faced this year and that we would all most likely start near the back of the race.  We also expected that the course would be insanely muddy and very challenging.  We kept both of these factors in mind when visualizing and preparing for the race.

Momper:  My individual expectations were to get top 100. Unfortunately, I narrowly missed that mark, but our team goal was top 10, and we certainly achieved that. Our coaches obviously expected us to give every last effort that we had stowed in us, to run an intelligent, gutsy race, and we certainly did these things.

Drumm:  Preparing tangible expectations for the race was rather difficult. This was our/ St. Xavier’s first year competing at NXN, so we couldn’t be sure of how our team stacked up compared to the rest of the field. However, Coach Dehring was confident that if the team prepared to run our best at NXN, then we would be able to finish in the top 10 teams. And we did just that. Individually, I typically like to have a goal time to beat at the beginning of each race. I looked at the times from last year, and decided that with a good race I would be able to break 17:00. Luckily, I watched the open race and thought twice. 

Gardner:  Our race preparations were no different from what they have been in the past. We stuck to a normal run schedule while still maintaining a healthy diet. Probably the hardest preparation for me was sleep. Adjusting to the time change was a struggle and every night I got less than an adequate amount of sleep. I think the sleep had a direct correlation on my poor performance.


OHRunners:  What was your race strategy as an individual and as a team?

Kuvin:  Race strategy has always been an integral part of my race preparation. I always research my competition, teams and individuals, so that I have a good idea of how I will fit into the race. Due to the mud, I thought many would get fatigued early, so I planned to go out fairly conservatively and move up from there. My coach has also stressed race strategy on numerous occasions, and NXN was no different. Among other things, we made the decision not to run the course the day before the race, because we thought it would fatigue our legs. Strategy for the race itself was very hard, since we really did not know how the race would end up due to the national competition and course conditions. We decided, however, to go in with a positive attitude, and that is what I think made the difference in the end. 

Hall:   I knew that I wouldn't win the race individually, but I did know that I had to go out and run a strong race like I always do and compete to the best of my abilities.

Stifel:  Unlike all of my other races, I didn't really have a specific race strategy. The race was full of new runners I had never raced against. My plan was to pretty much stick around my teammate Jake Grabowski, who I've been around most of the season. Soon into the race, I knew that wasn't going to be possible. Trying to find him, or anyone I knew, was impossible. With all the mud, it was hard to see the color of the singlet in front of me. Are team strategy was pretty broad too. It was just go out hard and try to move up throughout the race.

Grabowski:  Individually, I knew I wanted to improve upon my race at Nike Midwest, when I went out too fast and died.  I decided to take the race out easy and move up the pack throughout the race, passing runners the whole time.  As a team, we really didn't have a great idea of where we should be, as we had only run against two of the teams in the field so far.  Our goal was simply to run our hardest, race intelligently, and have fun!

Momper:  As an individual, I wanted to go out comfortably hard, as I knew the mud would only get worse with everyone's footsteps. However, I also didn’t want to be in the front, as I tend to have a sit and kick mentality. I sought to have a hard, smart second mile, which I did, and I wanted to have a strong finish comparable to that at State. This last goal didn't go as well, but I wanted to make sure I had absolutely nothing left at the end of the race and use every bit of energy within me, which I certainly did!

Drumm:  Individually, I realized there were a lot of runners that are faster than me in the race, so I knew I would start out near the back. Our coaches did an amazing job of preparing us mentally for such a big race. Coach Dehring told us that in order to perform well, we had to be mentally tougher than the other runners. With the conditions as sloppy as they were, it would take enormous efforts to make sudden moves during the race, consuming excessive energy. As a team, I think we did a good job of starting out at a reasonable pace and gradually passing runners throughout the race. 

Gardner:  As a team, we hoped to place as high as we could, and obviously ninth is no little feat. As an individual, I wanted to run a race similar to Midwest regionals where I placed in well and had an amazing kick. In addition to that being my last high school cross-country race, I wanted to leave everything I had at Portland Meadows.


OHRunners:  What were your thoughts at the starting line?

Kuvin:  I think that I am different than a lot of runners in that, on the starting line, and at all times for that matter, I am not nervous. I am able to focus very well on the task at hand, and I am very grateful for this gift. Being on the starting line at the National Championship, however, I could not help but feel overwhelmed. I was simply thinking about the journey to get to that moment and what an incredible experience I was in the midst of. Eventually though, I was able to calm myself down and remember to trust in my training and have fun. 

Hall:  At the starting line, all that I could think about was how great of a race I was going to have despite the conditions. I always try to have a positive mentality going into the race which keeps me focused through the race.

Stifel: When i got to the starting line I thought, we're finally here. The only thing I felt was joy. Almost no nerves or pressure, our goal wasn't to win a national championship, it was to race like we were national champions. We wanted to represent our school well and that is exactly what we did.

Grabowski:  Surprisingly, I did not feel particularly nervous at the starting line.  Unlike most races, I did not feel a lot of pressure since I knew we had very little to lose.  My legs felt fantastic and I knew it would be the last cross country of my high school career, so I was ready to run hard and have a good time.

Momper:  At the start line, I breathed very deeply and told myself that it was upon us to bring our fans and extremely supportive alumni a good race; this was not undue pressure, it actually helped motivate me. I told myself not to get too caught up in the energy of the race at the beginning, and I picked out the runners that I knew from other teams.

Drumm:  At the starting line, I was focused on the race, but many other things crossed my mind as well. We all wished each other luck to cap off a great season with a solid last race. I thought about the countless hours that we had put into preparing for this culminating race. This led me to think about how we wouldn’t have been at NXN if it wasn’t for the support we received from the coaches, school, local community, family, and friends. I told myself that I wanted to race my very best to represent all of those people who provided that support, and lastly, have fun while doing it.

Gardner:  At the starting line, I was not nervous. It was my birthday and I thought this is just a really good birthday present, so don't squander it. I was a bit cold and disappointed that it was so muddy, knowing I would have a very slow time.


OHRunners:   Describe your race?

Kuvin:  (37th in a time of 18:14)  My race. Wow! Words almost are not sufficient to express the race that I had. I started off, as I had planned, relatively slowly, and was able to find untrodden ground that I could accelerate on. Early on, I knew I was doing well because I kept hearing spectators shouting out to runners around me place numbers, such as 52. This motivated me for the rest of the race, because it was far exceeding goals that I thought were going to be difficult to achieve. Eventually I realized that I was running in first for my team, though I knew that I had a few teammates close by. I had no idea how the team race was unfolding, but knew if we had several guys in the top 75, we were doing well. This pushed me to finish hard in an extremely difficult last 1000 meters. I finished and turned around to see Michael Hall and Evan Stifel close on my heels, and I could tell that we had done very well. When I found out we had finished 9th, and I had scored 37, I was astounded. I could have never dreamed of doing that well team or individual wise, so I was ecstatic. The race itself was by far the most fun I have ever had during cross country, and was the first time this season that I exceeded my own expectations for myself. It is very fitting that this race occurred as the very last High School cross country race I will ever run, and I could not be more happy with how my career has turned out.

Hall:  (39th place in a time of 18:17)  Its’ really hard to describe my race due to the fact of I've never raced on a course that difficult. At the beginning of the race though, I knew I had to go out hard or else I would be stuck in the back where it would be nearly impossible to move up throughout the race. By the 3k mark I felt dead, it became harder and harder to lift my legs even though I was trying my very hardest. At the end of the race, I was basically crawling across the finish line. When I was finally able to stand to my feet, I knew that I had gave it my all.

Stifel:  (41st place in a time of 18:21)  It started out fast as expected, well as fast as the mud would permit. At the beginning of the race, I was thinking I was in pretty good shape, and then the mud started to get to me. Every step I took, took a little more energy than a normal step would. The mud was pulling at my feet like it wanted to eat my shoes. The last set of hay bales was the real killer. After I got over those, I felt myself slow down by an extreme amount. When I got about 200 meters from the finish line, I got a little burst of energy and finished what felt hard to me. I could not have been happier with my race.

Grabowski:  (64th place in a time of 18:46)  I executed my race plan fairly well, going out slow and progressively moving up throughout the race.  After the first 2K, though, I was a little concerned because I was more tired than I had been at that point in a race all season and I was still behind where I knew I should be.  Just after the 2 mile marker, I got a boost of confidence and made my move.    In that last mile, I passed a decent number of runners, including two from Carmel, a team that beat us at Nike Midwest.  I finished 4th for my team, which is a little disappointing, but I left it all out on the course (although I took plenty of it with me) and my team ran great! *Note: I finished 102nd overall and 64th for team runners*

Momper:  (70th place in a time of 18:49)  I believe I ran a pretty smart race, starting out in the middle of the pack with a decent first 3k. I stayed positive despite the mud and attempted to stay calm and poised for obstacles like the whoopdydoos and hay bales. The disappointing part of my race was my last 400, where  completely hit a wall before the last hay bales and my momentum was killed as I hit the finish line. It was a painful finish and I had to go to the emergency tent for dehydration.

Drumm:  (83rd in a time of 18:57)  This was by far the most difficult course I have ever raced on. The mud and water were challenging, as well as running against such a competitive field. However, the most trying obstacle for me was the time. I didn’t realize until around the 4k mark that in addition to slipping on mud and jumping over hay bales, I would also be racing for an extra 2 to 3 minutes compared to a typical race. Yet, the race at Portland Meadows was the most enjoyable race I have run in. The atmosphere is amplified by the announcers, cameras, and massive crowd. With the whoop-dee-doos, mud pits, and hay bales, the race was more like a really competitive obstacle course that all of the runners could have fun with while racing.

Gardner:  (114th place in a time of 19:26)   I went out the first 200m and I looked around and I saw myself in the back of the pack. From there I knew I had to pick it up and I did. About 800m into the race I hit a giant wall and from there it got no better. It was a struggle because I was very tired and there was a lot of mud and it was hard to maneuver through the mud and "lakes." Heading into the finish, I gave it my all and I was upset when I looked at the clock seeing a time of 19:20.


OHRunners:  Xavier was the Ohio D1 Team State XC Champions. How would you describe your 2012 XC season. Compare your experience at the Ohio State championships with that of the Nike Nationals, as an individual and as a team member.

Kuvin:  This season was almost a dream from the start of training in June all the way to NXN in December. I am so blessed to have this ability to run, and to have my phenomenal teammates beside me. As for comparing State to Nationals, it is almost impossible. They were two very different and very special experiences. State has always been the end goal of St. X cross country 2012. Our coach has called it "Project 2012" ever since the end of sophomore year. I am so happy that we came together and were able to become State Champions. At the same time, I am so grateful to be part of a team that is good enough to qualify to NXN; that experience left memories that will last forever. I feel like emotionally, State was much more powerful, because that is what all the training was geared to. I did feel like I had a better race personally at nationals, but maybe that's just me enjoying playing in the mud! All in all, my time in St. Xavier cross country has been phenomenal, and I have enjoyed every minute of it, from the heartbreak of State last season, to the grueling training this year, to the culmination of our efforts at the State meet in 2012, and finally to the extra special experience of Nike Cross Nationals 2012. I thank God every day that I was able to be part of such a great experience.

Hall:  I could go on and on about our cross country, but the main thing I wanna say is that we had amazing leadership this season. Comparing State to Nationals is extremely hard.   The adrenaline of winning a state championship & competing across the country in one of the biggest races in the country is almost equal in excitement in my eyes. Even though I had a much better race at nationals than I did at state, I still loved our 2012 team and season.
Stifel:  Finishing first at state was our ultimate goal. I would much rather have won state than go to NXN. Fortunately, we got to do both. That feeling I got after finding out we won state was amazing. I had never felt anything like it. It's impossible to describe. I don't even think winning a second state championship, which by the way is our goal for next year even though it will be much harder, would feel as good. Obviously it felt great to find out we qualified to NXN. As I already said, it could never match the amount of joy I felt after winning state, but it was pretty amazing. Going there as a team made it even better. I can't imagine going there as an individual is nearly as good. Having a team to celebrate with was awesome. The season could not have gone better. We accomplished all our goals we set and it was truly a special season that I will never forget.
Grabowski:  My experience this cross country season really could not have been better! Four years of hard work culminated in a dream season my senior year and I could not be happier!  The two are very different experiences.  At State, I was very nervous and knew there was pressure for us to win the whole thing, so I was more relieved than excited when we won.  State also felt like much more of a "team" experience since most of our team of about 120 guys, as well as parents and alumni, was able to make it up and cheer for us.  At Nike Nationals, the whole meet experience was just as exciting as the race and I really felt humbled in the presence of so many other great runners and teams, both at the high school and professional levels.  Our performance here (9th place as a team) was incredibly exciting, but I am still more proud of our victory at State.
Momper:  This season was by far the most exciting I've ever experienced. We were dedicated and motivated from the start of summer training and we built off the disappointment of last year's 6th place at state. We got very close with our coaches, and had a great community atmosphere driven by our written-down goals and the support of the 120 other team members. With every meet we gained more energy and excitement, and when State came along we knew we had to give everything within us and couldn't afford the complacency that can come with a #1 ranking. State was not only a relief to win, but it was also filled with monumental joy, as we knew that we had finally proven that we were serious contenders to appear at Nationals and had fulfilled the dreams of our fans and our school, waiting nine years for a 4th title. Nike Nationals was also an incredible feeling; we finally felt like we were "big dogs" as my coach would say. proving we could hang with the top teams in the nation was so exciting for us and will certainly encourage me as I go further into college running.
Drumm:  The paramount goal of the team this year was to win the State Championships. The feeling of standing up on the podium and realizing that we had achieved exactly what we had set out to do was overwhelming. After that, the remainder of the season maintained that high note. NXN was a bonus to our goal, but it was not to be taken lightly. We were blessed with an extraordinary opportunity to represent our school, community, and state, and we wanted to perform our very best out of respect for those supporters we had. Nike Nationals was similar to the State Championships because both races were about the team. Our team doesn’t have a clear #1 runner. We were successful this year because we had a large group of runners extremely close in time, willing to push each other to improve every day. I believe that is why we had the second smallest team split (35 seconds) at Nike Nationals, as well as why we had the fifth lowest score when scoring all seven runners. We don’t simply run with each other as a team, we run for each other.

Gardner:  My cross-country season was not as good as I wanted it, but it was nice from what it started as. I had amenina for the first half of the season and until our invitational, I was struggling to hold on. After modifications to my training and a slightly new diet, I was back to where I wanted to be: top 7. From there the season only got better, running great races at GCLs, State, and Midwest Regional. At State and Nationals I was seventh for our team. Both races I knew I had numerous people that would be supporting us so it was comforting in a sense. As an individual, I think I gave everything I had at State, while at Nationals I was just trying to hold on for the last few days. As a team member, I helped make our team a national program and a fearsome state contender. I had more fun outside of Nationals because there were numerous opportunities for us to meet others, while at State our team was together and we didn't interact with any other team.

OHRunners:  Once again, congratulations on a great season.  Thank you for time in helping us to recognize St. Xavier.  And, a great thank you to all of the other team members who supported you in your efforts.