The Mt. Lebanon boys' cross country team balances chemistry with internal competition.
Interestingly, the team's chemistry outweighs its in-house rivalries.
Could it be that chemistry is part of what keeps the Blue Devils pack together? Seamus Roddy bolted to the front of the Sept. 22 PIAA Foundation race in Hershey. Sam Hughes, Ian Baun, Bradley Pollock and Jared Pollock did not. But they bobbed and weaved to work their way into the top 80 to 100 runners in the approximately 400-man race. Hughes was Mt. Lebanon's seventh runner that day, and not one minute had passed since Roddy crossed the line first for Mt. Lebanon.
"From our first man through our seventh man, we had less than 60 seconds," recalled coach Mike Agostinella.
Roddy ran the grueling Hershey course in 17:14 to place 19th, and Hughes came in at 18:06.
But Agostinella pointed out one more fact: "From runners one through six, the [elapsed] time was 37 seconds."
Both Pollock brothers, Jared and Bradley, crossed the finish line at 17:50.
"One of the highlights of the meet for me was the tight pack," Agostinella continued. "Philosophically, the chemistry of this group is very strong. It's a good group in terms of running in a pack."
In fact, the only runner who scored on Mt. Lebanon in a dual meet this season was South Park senior Tyler Rigby, who has not lost a Section 6-AAA race since his sophomore season.
Many cross country teams peak in the course of a given season because of cut-throat internal competition. That is, runners improve to overtake the front spots of their own teammates, and as a result the whole team gets faster. But the Mt. Lebanon boys' team may be a case in which the team bond is more powerful than the intrasquad game.
"They're all very competitive, but they try to help each other," said Agostinella. "This is a great trait to have when you're a pack-running outfit like we are. This particular group is more team-oriented than some of the groups we've had in the past."
This is not to say that Mt. Lebanon runners can achieve a pack position and stay there. Only half of the 10 runners Mt. Lebanon took to last Thursday's Tri-State Track Coaches' Association meet were seniors. Roddy, the two Pollocks, Tony Consiglio and Scott Westover will graduate this year. Baun, Hughes, Bill Daugherty, Pat Quirk and Matt Stone will not.
What this means is that somebody is always chasing somebody else on the Mt. Lebanon team.
"Success is like a glass mountain," said Agostinella. "There's room at the top, but there's no place to sit down."
Mt. Lebanon took second place in the boys' varsity race at the Tri-State meet.
The Tri-State meet found the Blue Devils at the end of a two-day "taper," or a period in which both road runs and interval training are lighter. This allows for active muscle recovery prior to postseason competition.
As usual, Roddy ran to chase race leaders in the Tri-State meet.
"Seamus goes out pretty smoking," said Agostinella. "Some of the younger guys, it takes them a while to work their way up."
For Mt. Lebanon, Roddy is the "point man," a term meaning a runner designated as the one toward whom teammates must set their sights. The Blue Devils know Roddy is out in front as they race, and the bonds of the pack draw them forward.
Not all teams employ a "point-man system.". But Roddy at the point man position works to unite Mt. Lebanon.
"You have the concept of the point man, the concept of the guys in the back of the pack, and the concept of being motivated," said Agostinella.
He added that each runner tries by example to encourage his teammates behind him.
As Mt. Lebanon looks ahead to today's WPIAL championship meet at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock, the team will continue to be unified by friendship and competition.
"Thank goodness we've been relatively healthy," said Agostinella. "Westover was out for awhile but he's back ... all these guys are ready to rock."