DELTA — Don't tell the Delta boys cross country team that competitive running is an individual sport.
The close-knit Panthers have utilized a team focus to spur each other on to great success on the course.
Delta has finished sixth as a team in the last two Division III state meets, the highest finish in school history.
With just eight runners, Delta has won four of the six invitationals it has competed in this season. The Panthers took home titles at the Columbus Grove, Tiffin Carnival, Widewater, and Hudson invitationals, and are ranked No. 2 in the state coaches poll.
Senior Colin Fisher, the Panthers' top runner, said team goals are more important than individual results.
“If I go down to the state meet, my goal is to place first,” said Fisher, whose top time this season is 15:35. “But if the team finishes first and I finish fourth or fifth, I'll be happier. The team comes first. We're like a family. We run for each other.”
Coach John Wodarski said his runners, especially the top five, have meshed.
“They've been together for five or six years. They encourage each other,” Wodarski said. “They do everything together. We have dinner parties as a team every Thursday night.”
Wodarski said he hopes the bonding results in the first state title in school history.
“They definitely want to walk away with some hardware,” Wodarski said.
Junior K.J. Abair has been the team's No. 2 runner. His top time is 16:26. Senior Maxx Lackie is the third runner and his fastest time this season is 16:48. The fourth runner is sophomore Alec Nash, whose personal best is 16:53. The fifth runner is senior Zech Hites, who has a best time of 17:32.
The lineup is rounded out by senior Andrew Turi, and freshmen Nick Jones, and Taylor Posey.
“We're all a bunch of good guys,” Lackie said. “We like to joke around and have fun. We have a weird way of bonding. We've known each other since middle school.
“During races, the gun goes off and we encourage each other. I'll see Colin take the lead and that encourages me. Alec is right behind me and I help him improve. We are a very close team, time-wise. We see each other the first two miles of every [3.1 mile] race. It's easier to run together than by yourself. You push each other.”
Abair said the camaraderie carries over to the course.
“We do a lot of team stuff together,” Abair said. “It helps a lot because we root each other on in workouts. We go out to eat and we take the same classes. We'll go out and play football, or volleyball or soccer. We hang out.”
The highlight thus far was winning a division title at the prestigious Tiffin Carnival last month. Delta captured the Division III championship at the meet that attracts a field of more than 6,000 runners. Fisher was third individually with a time of 15:39.
“It was the best feeling,” Fisher said. “It was a preview of what we can do. It showed us we are capable of winning the state title.”
All of the Delta runners said the win provided a spark.
“Delta has never won the Tiffin Carnival,” Lackie said. “We were shocked and surprised. That boosted our confidence.”
To attain such success the runners endure a tough training regimen, especially in the early season when the team runs between 50 and 70 miles per week. That number has been slowly tapered to about 30 miles per week. The team does morning runs three days per week.
“The kids get up before school and run,” Wodarski said.
The team runs every day after school and at meets on Saturdays. Sundays are optional. While the team is not running as many miles now, the runs are shorter and faster.
Wodarski said it is the same training system he used when he ran at Southview. He took 21st in state as a junior in 1986.
Fisher, who has verbally committed to run at Tiffin University, said success is what keeps him motivated.
“Once you get a taste of it, you take off. You work harder,” Fisher said. “We all want to be the best we can. We've all seen our times get down.”
Fisher has placed among the top three in every invitational and has been Delta's top finisher in each of those. Individually he has won the Clay, Hudson, and Widewater invitationals.
“We're hoping to contend for a state title,” Fisher said. “That's always been on our minds. We'll need to stay healthy and run to the best of our ability. I think we can pull it off.”
Delta's chief competition at state is McDonald, a school north of Youngstown, which finished fifth last year and has been ranked No. 1 all season. But the Panthers finished just six points behind McDonald at the Spartan-Boardman Invitational last month.
Wodarski said he believes if his top five runners get under a time of 17:30 they have a good shot at winning it all.
“Our big thing is that we all have to run a good race at the state meet,” Wodarski said.
Fisher finished 38th last season at state (17:01). Lackie was 64th (17:25.85) and Abair was 65th (17:25.93).
“It's all about wanting to do good for the team,” Lackie said. “Last year I thought I had let them down a bit [at state]. I will pull my weight.”
Contact Mark Monroe at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6354.