By CAINE GARDNER
The South Putnam boys' cross country team is hoping that enternal competition results in outward success in 2008.
The Eagles enter the season with a hefty number of runners and have three seniors head coach Brian Gardner believes will provide some quality leadership.
"I like our numbers; we've got 22 kids out," Gardner said. "For us that's a good thing; it creates competition. With Andrew Northrup, Tyler Heavin and Jacob Parker all three being seniors that have been around for four years, they know how to prepare for the season. For us, having those three guys at the top being leaders that have been through it helps get everybody in the mindset of being ready to go.
"We still got a long way to go just like every other team does at this point and time, but I like the competitiveness," he added.
It's that competitiveness that Gardner is banking on. He noted that the competition in practice would result in harder workouts, something that should benefit the Eagles in the long run. A byproduct of the friendly rivalries is that the team has come together to accomplish their goals for the season.
"With 22 guys you can have a lot of conflict, but this group is a close group. There are 22 guys that really like each other, so you get competition," Gardner said.
Gardner could tell some of the team put time in over the summer, which should serve them well, and that the team had already begun setting goals they want to achieve.
"I don't think you can ever do enough," Gardner commented. "I think they've actually put forth some running in the summer and they've got some pretty good goals they want to reach. I think when kids have goals like that it makes them want to reach them. These are the goals that they've put down for themselves and for us, if they reach those goals, then our team goals will take care of themselves."
A possible cause for concern for Gardner is South Putnam's lack of a lightning-fast runner. He explained that to be competitive at big meets, a runner needs to get a time in the 17-minute range. As of now, the Eagles don't have that.
What the Eagles do have is is a group of runners that can consistently come within a minute to a minute and a half of each other -- a valuable trait if the squad can lower its times from a year ago.
"I thought that was one of our problems last year at big meets we'd be 40 points behind because our top guy was 50th," Gardner explained. "People would run together but the team would be too far back to mount charge and get needed points.
"This year we still don't have that one guy, but our seven, time wise, is lower than they were last year, so our places should show that."
That time split is one of the goals the Eagles enter the season with.
A lot of times when a season approaches, the nature of a team is to get tight and let their focus take away from the fun a sport can be. That is not the case for the South Putnam Eagles.
"It's a pretty loose group of kids," Gardner grinned. "They really enjoy coming to practice. They're free-spirited and enjoy being around each other, but the one thing about them is that they might be in that type of mind frame, when it's time to run, they go hard. They understand when business needs to be taken care of, but they also understand they want to have some fun in the same process, which is a good mix."
Gardner's optimistic that his squad will be in contention at most all their meets and with 12 guys vying for seven precious positions, the results should come.
"I've got 12 guys that a really in that mix to be able to run. A lot of the 12 guys want to be in our top seven, well you have 12 guys that want to be in the top seven, there's going to be somebody that's out. So competition wise it helps in practice," Gardner concluded.
The Eagles will hit the course for the first time when they compete in the Hokum Karem in Danville at 9 a.m. Saturday.