Coaches plan. Athletes listen. When the coach is as accomplished and strategically experienced as West Chester Henderson's Kevin Kelly, and the athletes are as talented and coachable as Chris Ferry, Tim Shea, Andrew Jervis and Chris Aldrich, good things are bound to happen.
(MORE PIX BELOW STORY)
Kelly had a plan. The runners knew that their workouts indicated they could beat the team they perceived as their main competition - Fork Union Military Academy of Virginia.
Kelly outlined his battle plan to PennTrackXC's Gayle Rich. "Our strategy was to give Aldrich as big a lead as possible."
The reason? Fork Union anchor Axel Mostrag has some wheels. He is US #1 in the 1000 meter run with his 2:26.11. He is high on the list in the mile at a 4:15.85 (He would split 4:11-point in this race). He was favored to win the 800 on Sunday, and did, by just .02, running 1:51.63, which should go without saying, is one of the top few in the country.
So it was a good plan Coach Kelly had. Get out aggressively and get away.
Photo by David Fleenor for The MileSplit Network
But having the confidence of the athletes is critical as well. Aldrich says the guys believe their coach. "He knows us better than we know ourselves. He said our workouts matched up well."
What Fork Union may not have known is that Henderson did not run their usual order in winning the PTFCA Indoor State Champs DMR in 10:21.56 (Aldrich-3:11.8, Shea-49.8, Jervis-2:01.5, Ferry-4:19.1). Aldrich is usually the anchor. But at States, he was sick, so he was assigned the lead-off 1200 leg, and senior Chris Ferry was given the mile.
Ferry, back at his usual spot in the 1200, started the plan to perfection. His lead-off 3:08.0 gave Henderson the lead. And with a 49.9 400 from Tim Shea and 2:01.9 800 by Andrew Jervis, Aldrich was handed the baton with about a 50 meter lead.
"I knew he (Mostrag) would be coming," Aldrich says. "I kind of expected him to catch me with three laps to go," (out of 8 laps for those not familiar with the race)... "but he didn't actually catch me until the last lap."
You'd think with a 1:51 guy on your tail, it would be scary times. But Aldrich has matured a lot as an athlete this year following his stellar cross country season and equally strong indoor campaign. "I was scared when he passed me on the final backstretch, though."
But Aldrich had a few weapons left in his arsenal. One, he had teammates who had been cheering him on the whole way. "I thought of them and knew I had to put everything into it for the team. They had given me the lead and I couldn't let them down."
And he also had confidence in his physical ability and conditioning. "I knew I had better strength."
Aldrich fought back. Mostrag never got more than two meters ahead. And coming off the final turn, Aldrich gave it everything he had.
"I pulled on his shoulder rounding the last turn. That's when I knew I could win."
10:16.57 after a 4:16.5 split for Aldrich, and the Nike Indoor Nationals DMR title, earning the team all-American status.
In his calm, reassuring way that is one of his hallmarks as a coach, Kelly was thrilled. "They all ran great. Aldrich fought off one of the best milers in the country. It was exciting for all of us."
Next up, the Penn Relays DMR. Will there be a rematch?
Fans can only hope so. And Henderson will be there with a plan.
Following photos by John Herzog for The MileSplit Network - Ferry, Shea and Jervis, followed by the final dual between Aldrich and Mostrag