For most of his young athletic life, Patrick Anderson was more focused on takedowns and escapes than hill work and a finishing kick.
Wrestling is no longer a pursuit of the Mt. Lebanon junior, but, according to his current coach, Anderson hasn't left behind all that he learned on the mat.
"You could always see that Patrick was a standout competitor," Blue Devil boys' coach Mike Agostinella said of Anderson, who is days away from matching strides with some of the nation's best in Saturday's Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. "As an age-grouper, he had been in wrestling. He picked up a lot of his aggressiveness, I think, from that sport. Plus, his mom and dad were both athletes, and that got him off to a great start."
Anderson started strong this fall and never looked back, securing his ticket for the national final in San Diego with a sixth-place finish and PR of 15:38.6 on November 24 in the Northeast regional at legendary Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. Anderson added his name to a very short list of Foot Locker Finalists from Mt. Lebanon, joining only Rad Gunzenhauser (2009) and Kelsey Potts (2014) with that achievement on their running resume.
"States was the main goal," said Anderson, who reached that benchmark in becoming just the fifth Mt. Lebanon state XC champion and the first since Shawn Cavanaugh in 2000. "Peak there. Run our best race.
"Foot Locker, Coach A and I had talked about it a little bit. It had been in the back of our heads, but it really didn't become a goal until the end of the season."
At the end of the 2017 cross country season, Anderson showed signs of being a major player in the years to come. He was fourth across the line in the Class AAA race at the WPIAL meet and finished 22nd overall and was the third sophomore in the PIAA race.
"Last year, really the goal had just been just get out there and (state) medal," Anderson said of his sophomore XC season. "I went out and did that, was happy with it but obviously wasn't up there in the top. I think I set a lot of standards of 'I'm a sophomore, they're these fast seniors. You don't belong in front of them.' This year, as much as I could, I tried to take all that away and just go out there and run my hardest every race, and I think that really made a big change mentally."
Indoors last year, he cranked out a then-PR 4:29.91 for 10th at the PTFCA indoor finale before laying waste to that performance outdoors. He won the 1,600 at the Baldwin Invitational in 4:26.58 before running 4:20.03 for second in the District 7 race. At Shippensburg, he registered a PR 4:18.74 in the prelims before placing sixth in the AAA final in 4:21.71.
Agostinella offered comparisons between Anderson's development and the progress shown by former Mt. Lebanon standouts Gunzenhauser and 2012 grad Alex Moran, who twice medaled in both the PIAA 1,600 and state cross country final.
"Right now, he's ahead of schedule of the other two boys," Agostinella said of Moran and Gunzenhauser, who was a state indoor 3,000 winner in addition to Foot Locker Finalist. "(Patrick's) doing some things that they did as seniors, he's doing this year as a junior. From that standpoint, he's ahead of the curve."
Anderson's 2018 season was highlighted by his five "big-meet" battles with North Allegheny's duo of Zach Kinne and Dan McGoey, with each of the trio collecting at least one top finish from the start-to-finish duels. With Kinne and McGoey in Wappingers Falls at NXR Northeast the same day, Anderson was left to battle it alone at Van Cortlandt with a San Diego trip on the line.
"I think that was definitely a big help," Anderson said of his races against the NA tandem. "As much as it's nice to go out and be on your own sometimes, just to be in the front, you are not going to run the same kind of times or be pushed in the same way. Having three guys like us up there pushing each other every race really made a big difference his year."
Agostinella said he was not surprised that the newly minted state XC champion has also had success in the shorter, faster 1,600 on the track, adding that he is looking forward to Anderson having a "spectacular outdoor track season."
"Patrick, by and large, is much faster than other boys I've had at this talent level," the veteran coach said. "If we decided to train Pat to run the half or run the quarter, he would be able to lay down some very, very impressive times there."
With just one race remaining in the season, Anderson has performed at an incredibly high level throughout the fall.
"There were a couple (races) where I was a little disappointed that it didn't go as well, but I don't think there was a single race where I completely fell apart or anything," he said of a campaign that featured four victories in nine "big meet" races and a lowest placing of sixth in the Big Apple race.
"I think mentally staying focused," Anderson said of the key to his consistency. "That's a big thing Coach A talks about - staying focused on it and physically being prepared. I think I was ready for every race this year."
During his first try at post-season races, the junior has been impressed by how he has been able to hold a peak level of performance that was set up for a Hershey finale.
"I am surprised with how well it's going again," Anderson said of his preparation for San Diego. "States, I felt good, like I was at the top of my game there.
"Then we came out and I had a fast repeat workout before regionals and was able to go put out a huge PR there, end of the season. I'm feeling great and ready for (Saturday)."
For the second consecutive event, Anderson will race a course for the first time against top-quality competition. He has done some homework on Balboa Park's double-loop layout and is looking forward to the challenge and his first trip to San Diego and southern California.
"I have watched some of the (other Foot Locker) races," he said of his race preparations for the 40th national championship. "I think it will be great to be able to go see it before, obviously, study that. I think I will be prepared for those hills when they come around and definitely be looking to do some work there. I think it should be a good course."
In addition to racing for a potential national championship, Anderson will have the opportunity to further impress the collection of college coaches in attendance at this sun-filled event.
"Obviously, it's a great field, a lot of tough guys out there," Anderson said. "I think the experience of just being able to go run against the top 40 in the country is going to be great. I am just going to be looking to go out there and give it everything I have and put my best race down."