When it comes to fall athletics, some sports get all the glory—and cross country is not usually one of them. Perhaps it is the muddy trails, the patience required from its spectators, or the short shorts donned by its leggy crusaders—whatever the reason, cross country does not usually steal the spotlight. Until now.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, all eyes were on Maple Grove’s boys and girls cross country teams as they ran away with a state title and a second place trophy, respectively. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D Championships, held at Chenango Valley State Park, marked the first time in school history that the Maple Grove boys placed first in the state, edging out Lake Placid by three points. The girls fell only to Greenwich, the defending state champs, 57-51.
The teams were led in their victories by Steve Matteson in his first year as head coach and only his second year coaching cross country at Maple Grove. While Matteson experienced astounding success right out of the gate, he was quick to praise the coaches that came before him. He attributes much of the success and popularity of Maple Grove’s cross country program to the solid foundation laid by those coaches.
“Coach Gustafson and Coach Doc Rappole preached that we were a family of runners,” Matteson said. “They had a tremendous knowledge base and love of the sport. They helped everyone else learn how to love the sport, too.”
Matteson said that much of his season as a coach was spent not only fostering this love of running, but also learning how to draw exceptional performances out of his athletes. While he worked with both male and female runners, Matteson found no significant differences in coaching the opposite genders. The key to success, he discovered, was knowing his athletes as individuals and tailoring his coaching style to their needs.
“There are some athletes you can be a little harder on, while with others you know you have to dial it back a bit,” Matteson said. “I can’t say the boys and girls are different; each athlete is different on his or her own. It’s up to the coach to figure out what works best for each runner and adjust to what’s best for them.”
Through months of racking up mileage, months of encouraging his athletes to break through mental barriers – which, Matteson claims, “is the hardest part of running” – and months of striding towards that state championship title, Matteson has many reasons to be proud of his team. But it isn’t the personal bests or the shiny trophies that left him feeling most satisfied: it’s the character of his athletes.
“I’m proud of how hard they worked every day; they were all willing to make the sacrifices that it took to become a state caliber team,” Matteson said. “But what I’m most proud of is how humble our team is and how supportive they are, not just to our teammates, but to everyone else. They are the team that is out there cheering for every other team, because they know just how difficult it is.”
Stand-out runners at the state championships included Michael Peppy in third place (16:16.9), Frank Colburn in seventeenth place (17:01.7) and Pete Auer in twentieth place (17:05.7). The girls also had two runners placing in the top twenty: Ava Crist in eighth place (19:20.4) and Christina Peppy in eighteenth place (20:18).
To read more of Cortney Linnecke’s creative and informative contributions to the Jamestown Gazette, please go to www.jamestowngazette.com.