North Xtra: Quaker Valley captures third cross country title in a row

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For the Quaker Valley boys cross country team, winning is the result of ingenuity and grass-roots efforts.

It's how a small-but-wiley program stays dominant.

The Quakers won their sixth consecutive WPIAL Class AA team championship last Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock. The 19-member team isn't huge, but runners such as senior Roy Hadfield know what to do in tough meets. Hadfield went out first -- he was in the top 15 after the first half-mile.

Luke Kropf, Josh Szymanski, Xavier Lang and Rob Veltre were back in the middle of the overall pack, but they kept their group tight.

"Everyone together," said coach Dave Noyes. "At practice, that's the main focus."

Noyes actually helps the Quakers to tailor their training to specific races. The warm conditions of WPIAL championship week led Noyes to require the boys to practice in sweats and coats.

"It's not necessarily how hot it was, because in the middle of summer the conditions might not seem so bad," said Noyes.

But a random 83-degree stint in late October took some acclimation. Noyes and the Quakers also factor a lot of course information into their preparations. At Cooper's Lake, Noyes told the team to start conservatively.

"It was such a hot day -- we told them to be conservative at the start ... The race pretty much started at the 2-mile mark, where people were going to feel the effects of the heat," Noyes said.

As a result, the Quaker Valley boys were able to let their depth take over as the race went on. The Quakers will not do this on Saturday at the PIAA Championship meet at the Parkview Course in Hershey, however.

"The [course] gets narrow in the middle," Noyes said about the course. "If you're in the back, it's very hard to work your way up. So you have to get out fast."

Quaker Valley's smart running is complemented by having the right runners. Last spring, the Quakers said goodbye to Nat Fox, Matt Cooper and L.J. Westwood as they graduated. Likewise, Quaker Valley's 2013 seniors ramped up their recruiting efforts.

"[Kropf] is a junior, and this is the first time he went out for cross country," said Noyes.

Noyes explained that the Quakers would have enjoyed having Kropf run cross country a year earlier, but he had suffered a concussion. Following his recovery, Kropf ran track for Quaker Valley and enjoyed it.

Today, Kropf is one of the runners Noyes and the Quaker Valley team are proud to have recruited from the halls of the school.

Lang, Charlie Kristo, and Alex Comerci (the other new members of Quaker Valley's varsity squad), all came through the junior varsity squad. Moving to Quaker Valley's varsity squad from the junior varsity is a significant achievement, as the process is difficult and selective.

"They know they have to earn their way on [to varsity]," said Noyes. "They consider it to be somewhat of an honor to be on that -- it's a part of the tradition."

The younger Quaker Valley runners who work their way from junior varsity to varsity are also the result of "recruiting," but it's more in the form of senior encouragement and leadership.

"The seniors are very encouraging to the younger runners, so the program builds upon itself each year," said Noyes.

Current seniors such as Hadfield and Josh Szymanski have provided a crystal-clear example for the Quakers.

"Young guys see what it takes to race at that level," Noyes explained.

This year marks the PIAA's classification change for cross country; runners will now compete in Classes AAA, AA and A. Quaker Valley's classification has not changed. The Quakers still compete in Class AA.

But Quaker Valley cross country's program resourcefulness and in-school chatter will keep the Quakers winning.

"You train hard no matter who your competition is," Noyes said. "You never know what the PIAA is going to hand you ... I'm very proud of the way the guys responded."

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