(Park Pride (Winter Park) finished 21st in the inaugural NXN in 2004 which was called Nike Team Nationals back them. The team consisted of Donny Anguish, Andrew Chuplis, Brian Chwalisz, Andrew Corcoran, Coleman Hoover, Chris Sickinger, Dustin Schuss, and Caleb Vogt. Photo courtesy of Mike Hill)
Back in 2004, NXN was referred to as NTN or Nike Team Nationals. The Winter Park boys were the first Florida team to ever be invited to the event paving the way for the 2005 Episcopal girls, 2009 Columbus boys, 2011 Belen Jesuit boys, 2015 Trinity Prep boys, and current Bolles boys program. Winter Park, which ran under the name Park Pride finished 21st out of 22 teams. Coach Mike Hill reflects on that team and their experience in Portland.
Flrunners.com: What was your road to NXN (then Nike Team Nationals) like?
CH: We were supposed to be very good that year. Then we lost our first meet of the year to Colonial (eventual state runner up squad). It was the first time we had lost to a 4A school in years. We were scheduled to head out to the Woodbridge Invitational the next week in California. (My wife stopped me from canceling the trip. I was mad.) We went to Woodbridge and finished 3rd overall in the sweepstakes race. (average of 15:33 3 mile for our top 5).We also made a trip to Great American in North Carolina that fall. We finished 4th n the Race of Champions and only 8 seconds per guy behind the champs who were ranked #10 in the US at the time. We then went on to win the state meet by 58 points, scored 57, and averaged 16:05 for 5K.
FLR: 2004 was the first year of the meet and back then you received an invitation. There were no qualifying meets. How did the selection process go for the team?
CH: I had to lobby to get our guys in. I was on the phone with the Nike guys after the state meet outside the restaurant while the guys and their families were celebrating. I then sent off a letter (email) to the committee outlining the fact that we did everything they asked potential competitors to do. We ran against great competition successfully and won our state meet convincingly and ran pretty quick. The selections were made the next weekend after the California state meet was done, and we were in!!
FLR: What was your favorite part about the whole experience from the extracurricular activities to race day?
CH: I loved seeing the guy's reactions to the "gear". There was a lot of "celebrity athletes" around the event. I personally enjoyed the tour of the NIKE facility and how cool that was.
FLR: You work at Trinity Prep, obviously those guys (Avery Creek Running Club) qualified in 2015 becoming the 4th program ever from FL. What do you think as someone who is involved with the sport (timer, former coach, former runner, son goes there) of that team and where they stack up against some of Florida's best?
CH: I find comparing cross times and teams very difficult in this era of ever changing courses. I find it hard to believe how little is really understood prior to internet era of how good some of the teams from Florida were. I found out recently Winter Park was ranked #9 in the country in 1972. I worked there for 16+ years and did not know that. There are teams from the 70s and 80s that I think are just as good as what many now see as all-time teams. Largo won 10 state titles and their average score was 68.2. They were 2nd five times by an average of 12.4 points and finished 4th and 8th in their "bad" seasons - that as a span of 17 years. The guys here at TP are doing amazing things. Their fifth guy's PR from this fall is 16:02. The trip to NTN for us was a lifetime memory and I know it will be for them too.
FLR: It's a long flight, and the temperatures/weather are total opposite of Florida. What advice do you have for the guys about adapting to those changes?
CH: There's not enough time to adapt. It is going to be just like it was for our trip from the weather forecast - 40's and rain. As a guy not racing, just walking around during the race it was miserable. The thing I told them this week was, forget the "everyone's racing in the same conditions" line, think of this as the ultimate test of what makes CC running awesome, mental toughness. You can do anything for 15-16 minutes except maybe hold your breath. They have to make a very conscious decision on how they plan on handling this particular challenge and stick to it. What's worse, the pain of discipline or the sting of regret?
FLR: Anything else you'd offer up as advice just about the race and the whole weekend?
CH: Enjoy it all. It is a very rare experience to go through with your teammates, guys you will stay friend with likely longer than anyone else you know. Enjoy it all and at the end of the day, be able to say I did so while doing my best.