By Joe Scalzo
John Phillips is coaching the most talented cross country team Boardman High has had in two decades.
He’s also coaching the most focused team he’s ever been around, in any sport, at any school.
It’s a coach’s dream.
It’s also the only dream he’s getting this week.
“I haven’t slept well at all,” he said, grinning. “So far, I’m maybe averaging four hours a night.”
Depending on who you ask and where you look, the Spartans should finish anywhere from first (junior Mark Hadley’s goal) to third (Phillips’ best guess) to fifth or sixth (the scenario keeping Phillips up at night) at Saturday’s Division I regional meet at Boardman High School.
“Since Day 1, right after last season ended, this team set a goal that they were gonna win the Federal League, they were gonna win the district and they were gonna get to Columbus,” Phillips said. “They’ve already accomplished two of those three goals.
“But, certainly, Columbus is the biggest of the three.”
Boardman placed ninth at last year’s regional — the top four teams advance — but with its top six runners back, there was a sense that 2012 could be a special year.
The Spartans have exceeded their expectations, winning the Suburban League and Federal League meets and placing second at the Spartan Invitational (only Pennsylvania’s North Allegheny was better) before dominating the district meet with a 42-point victory.
“We definitely thought we had really good potential,” said Hadley, who placed fifth in the state last season and is one of four juniors in the Spartans’ top seven. “I think everyone just getting older and getting more experience has really helped us take that next step.”
While Hadley has been the team’s clear No. 1, the performances of junior Alan Burns (third at district), freshman Nathan Hadley (11th), junior Justin Maroni (18th) and senior Sam Sheronovich (29th) showed the Spartans’ depth. (More impressive, Boardman’s sixth and seventh runners, sophomore Juan Santiago and junior Jacob Kelleck, were both in the top 60.)
Last week’s success doesn’t guarantee anything this weekend, of course, but the Spartans won’t be surprised, either by the competition (most of which they’ve already faced this year) or the course.
“[Running at home] gives us an extra spark,” Hadley said. “We definitely feel like it’s an advantage.”
Added Phillips, “They know what they have to do, they want it [success] and it’s not something they expect to just happen to them. They know they have to go and earn it.”