Coaching Champions: St. Thomas Aquinas Boys

The St. Thomas Aquinas boys made it two in a row when they tallied 82 points to win the 4A Cross Country Finals over Lakewood Ranch by 95 points. The Raiders were led by Nicholas Rischar (3rd) and Antonio Martinez at the front of their line up. Coach Joe Hazera talks about this year's squad and their journey to repeat state champions.

What kind of training did your team get in over the summer months leading into the season?

The typical slow build up of miles incorporating some tempo runs the weekly long run. 

How did you train the team in the final weeks leading up to the state meet?

We reduced our mileage and increased our rest.  Being that most of the difficult work was completed, our workouts are geared more towards building confidence.

What chances or belief did you have in your team's chance and ability to win the state title/make the podium?

Having come into this season ranked #1 with five of seven athletes returning from last years State Championship team, we believed we had what was required to repeat.

What advice or points of emphasis did you give your team prior to the race or the week leading into the state meet?

We reminded them that they had been through this before and were successful.  We believed that if we focused on our race and ran to our capabilities, we would be difficult to beat.

What was the race plan for the state meet and how did you feel it was executed?

As usual our race strategy was to pack run, stay off of the early pace and move forward throughout the race.  However, things do not always happen as planned.  Our pack was non existent by mile one as several runners went out faster than planned with mixed results. 

Who do you feel really stepped up individually the most for the team at the state meet?

Hats off to junior Nick Rischar who consistently gets better race after race and is emerging as one of the top runners in the state.  Also, Antonio Martinez had a breakthrough with a top 10 finish and a 20 second pr.

What were your feelings and emotions when you realized your team had made the podium or during the awards?

I though back on the road taken to this years title compared to last year.  Obviously not every goal is reached and things rarely go as planned but definitely a great feeling of accomplishment after months of preparation. 

What were the biggest challenges for this year's team?

Aside from all of the usual challenges, there is the added pressure of having to defend.  Maintaining focus and intensity during practice was probably our biggest challenge.

How would you best describe the group of kids that you coach?

Intelligent, respectful and hard working.  

What role do your assistant coaches play with the program?

Girls Coach Trish Butler and I work together with the athletes.  If you run at St Thomas you are going to hear one of us as we bring different approaches to a similar philosophy.  Our Assistant Coach is Mike Wengrenovich who makes it all happen as it is supposed to happen on race day. 

What role do your parents have with the program?

Our program is very well supported by our parents.  Providing transportation, coolers, drinks, snacks etc., is just a small part.  They also make it possible for our annual summer camp excursion and open their homes to us for team gatherings.  They are a well oiled machine on meet days.
Thank you parents of STAXC!

Who were the leaders on your team and what was the importance to the squad?

Senior Pierce Statham emerged as our leader during our summer training.  As team Captain, Pierce had the respect of his teammates and was instrumental with communication as well as providing his excellent leadership skills. 

Every podium team seems to have a special or unique makeup that makes them state champions/runners-up. What were some of those characteristics of this year's team? 

It is not every season where there are serious battles to secure spots on a team.  That was the situation with this squad, with the competition lasting up to the State meet.  Although we placed 2 athletes in the top 10, "things" happened on the way to the finish line and it was the back of our pack that seized the moment. 

What are your expectations for next year's team?

Can't we just celebrate a little more before getting to next year?  Next year we return 3 of the top 7 so we will be inexperienced and young.  Although we believe that we have a talented group with great potential, what happens during this track season will give us a better idea of what to expect.

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