Lauren Cleary, Olivia Theis and Abigail Gilmore made last weekend historic for the Lansing Catholic girls cross country program.
The trio each had times under 19 minutes – a program first for a single meet – while helping the Cougars capture the Division 3 title at the Portage Invite.
Their success was part of a big weekend for Lansing Catholic with the boys team also winning its portion of the invite. And for Cougars boys and girls coach Tim Simpson, the success his cross country teams have enjoyed this fall and in recent years is a product of a middle school program that Keith Warriner and Susan Schneider helped him get off the ground more than a decade ago.
“That’s been the biggest difference,” said Simpson, whose boys team is ranked No. 1 and girls squad is ranked No. 2 in the latest MichiganCrossCountry.com Division 3 state poll. “When I first came we had some good teams and we had some good people. But when they came into the school we had to recruit them just for cross country because they didn’t really know what it was all about.
“(The feeder program has) helped our high school team immensely. A lot of our stars that we’ve had on our high school team started out on our middle school team and kept on getting better from there.”
Several recent Lansing Catholic standouts like Keenan Rebera (Michigan), Zach Zingsheim (Georgetown), Jimmy Hicks (Georgia) and Austin Winter (Xavier) are now running in college after starting in the Cougars’ middle school program. And they helped Simpson begin to notice the middle school program paying dividends roughly eight years ago.
Now the current cast that includes Ethan Markey, Ryan Schroeder, Will Peters, Eric Warriner and others are building on the success of those past standouts.
“It’s special,” Markey said. “The Lansing Catholic program has been pretty good (in recent years) and to be a part of continuing that success is really special to me.
“Our coach always tells us about how these other great runners came through our program and he wants to form us like those runners. That pushes us to be better.”
Cleary, Theis and Gilmore are among the top girls runners Simpson has coached. Cleary and Theis are both products of the middle school program and along with Gilmore have been regular top finishers for the Cougar girls team, which enters Saturday’s Greater Lansing Cross Country championships as the defending champions.
Markey and Theis believe the workout plans developed by Simpson have been just as valuable to the Cougars’ success as the experience gained competing and training in middle school.
“We start running really tough workouts at the end of season to build that final layer to peak at states,” Markey said. “He organizes so we keep building up and the workouts are harder and harder.”
And they hope that training on top of the strong running foundation that’s been established helps both programs be in contention at the state meet once again this fall.
“Our goal has been a state title and that’s what we’re working towards,” Theis said..
Contact Brian Calloway at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.
GREATER LANSING CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Saturday (Girls race at 10 a.m., Boys race at 10:40 a.m.)
Where: Ledge Meadows Golf Course (1801 E. Grand Ledge Hwy, Grand Ledge)
Defending team champions: Boys – Okemos; Girls – Lansing Catholic
Defending individual champions: Boys – Keenan Rebera (Lansing Catholic); Girls – Karrigan Smith (St. Johns)