A freshman-laden roster is both an exciting and daunting proposition. The team’s core is set for years to come, but it often takes times for kids fresh out of middle school to develop the mental and physical attributes needed to successfully compete at the varsity level. Swain County boys cross country coach Keith Payne believes his young team is in a sweet spot with a nice mix of young talent and veterans like Dhruv Senghani, John Schuler, and Jaxon McClung to help mentor the freshmen who the Maroon Devils will count on in 2020.
“Having Dhruv there is helping a lot with his senior leadership,” says Payne. “Jaxon being an upperclassman and John being an upperclassman give the younger kids somebody to look up to for leadership. When they are feeling down about their times, these guys kind of say ‘Well look, when I was your age, this is what I was running.’ They are motivation, basically saying I was where you are now. It helps those kids put things into perspective, because as good as those freshmen are, their first 5K was two weeks ago, and they learned that it’s a little bit more than two miles.”
Payne expects freshmen Connor Brown, Connor Lambert, and Kane Jones to be among his top five this season.
“They’re lighting it up right now,” Payne says of the freshmen.
The late start to the season will mean colder racing temperatures across the states, but particularly in the mountains. Payne says cold weather running takes some getting used to.
“The toughest thing in cold weather is just that first mile and kind of getting accustomed to Okay, it’s cold, I’ve got to learn how to breathe, because the cold air takes your breath away,” he explains. “It’s a lot different than hot air, because eventually you’ll get kind of accustomed to running in the heat, but the cold air just kind of gets in your lungs, and it feels like everything is freezing up and it makes things tough.”
He says that proper outfitting and equipment will be vital under the influence of the cold.
“I think the biggest thing it will influence is if it’s kind of wet outside, the type of clothing you’ll wear to make sure you’re not running in wet clothes, because routinely if it’s cold outside you want to put something on that’s heavy and warm, but when you’re running and start sweating, it just makes it that much heavier, so now you’re running with weight added on because of the moisture to your sweater, moisture from the outside. Heavier clothes have a tendency to hold onto the water and then you’re running in heavy and baggy clothes,” Payne says.
Swain County will host three meets this year at Kituwah Mound/Ferguson Fields on Nov. 18, Dec. 2, and Dec. 30. All meets will be limited to four teams each.