Chris Hanson has a couple of aces and a solid bullpen, which would be great if he was Desert Vista's baseball coach.
But he is not.
He is the Thunder's longtime boys cross country coach, but he approaches the team's running schedule with a similar approach as a baseball manager does with his pitching staff.
"I feel like you have to limit the number of times they run really hard," Hanson said. "You don't run your best pitcher out there every single day. There has to be some time off and you don't go to the well too often."
The Thunder's top runners competed only once all year prior to Saturday's Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Costa Mesa, Calif., by design.
"There are certain races we want to step into it knowing we have fresh legs and we are ready to go," he said. "We want them to experience success, get in their work, but we don't want them pushing themselves every single week."
Woodbridge is one of those weeks where Hanson wants to test his top runners, and tested they were in the country's largest cross country meet.
"Southern California is the toughest state in the country," Hanson said with a laugh on the bus ride home Sunday. "It's why we go there."
Hanson took the whole squad; the non-varsity runners competed in class-based events, while the varsity ran in the sweepstakes race.
The Thunder came into the year ranked in the nation's top 25 and had the chance to compete directly with some of the nationally recognized teams.
It turned out to be a good test as Desert Vista finished 16th out of 22 teams in the sweepstakes race and 26th overall in a field of more than 100 schools from throughout the West.
"It is just a great meet and tested us like we wanted," top runner Carter Macey said. "When we see other runners that much better than us, then it gives us the drive to work harder."
The Thunder have been led all year by Macey and junior Ryan Dykstra, and last weekend was no different. They finished first and second, respectively, among their team. Macey, a junior, had the best time of 15 minutes and 21 seconds to finish 65th with Dykstra at 15:26 to place 72nd, while the team averaged 15:37 on the flat and fast 3.1-mile course.
Macey is starting to get comfortable with the title of being the Thunder's No. 1 runner.
"We are about running as a team, as a pack, and doing the best we can," he said. "I came into the year wanting to be at my best, not the No. 1 runner, but that is the way it has happened so far. Ryan and I push each other and I want to finish in the top five at state."
Ryan Smith (15:42, 97th), Jonathan Furseth (15:44, 101st), Zach Smith (15:53, 116th), Tyler Bonebright (15:56, 118th) and Nick Kooniga (15:57, 119th) filled out the contingent in the sweepstakes race.
While the top two were impressive, the fact that the rest of the lineup all finished under the 16-minute mark is what made it a successful team race. It is the same group that helped the Thunder win the Sole Sports Running Zone XC Festival in Scottsdale on Sept. 3.
While the Scottsdale event was a good in-state starter event, the Woodbridge race was a test against an elite field.
"We went knowing the competition was unbelievable," Hanson said. "There are some real thoroughbreds in California and there were top programs from other states. It was an opportunity to rub elbows with some of the best and that will only make you better."
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