It was a banner year for the Grade 9 cross-country running team at Hunting Hills High School – literally.
The squad ran over the competition recently at the CWAJHAA championships with five runners placing in the top 25 out of more than 90 in the race.
Devin Saunders took home the gold medal while teammates Quaid Hartley and Juan Vasques grabbed silver and bronze medals respectively.
Coach Brian Johnson said he wasn’t really surprised with Saunders and Hartley making the podium as both are very strong runners but he admits the third place finish by Vasques was a pleasant surprise.
“He hasn’t really trained with me. I just invited him along,” said Johnson after a teacher told him this young man was a very good runner. Johnson said the boys were not at the front of the three km race in the first 500 metres but instead were behind maybe a dozen others which was the strategy for this race.
“They went out at a very appropriate pace and then slowly ran through the runners as the endurance kicked in and the kids who went out too fast started to fall off the pace.”
In fact, that pacing advice was along the same lines as his talk with Vasques before the race.
“I told him if you see Quaid and Devin, if you’re in front of them, you’re running too fast. I said after a kilometre you can see how you feel but don’t go out faster than those two.”
Along with the podium finishes Johnson said there were also Hunting Hills runners who placed 11th, 18th and 22nd on the boys’ side which shows the strength of the program.
“I’m actually really excited,” he said about the future of the team. “I’ve not had a Grade 9 team this strong in awhile.”
He said he’s losing some Grade 12 runners from the team which finished third at provincials this year and to have such a strong junior team bodes well for the next few years.
“To me it’s exciting to be able to develop these guys over the next three years. So we’ll see. I predict by Grade 12 some of them will be incredible.”
He said the offshoot from these strong runners is how good they are academically as well.
“Kids who don’t mind a little pain and suffering on the race course also don’t mind a little pain and suffering doing their homework too.”
There’s a feeling these young adults are going to take that solid work ethic and run with it for many years to come.