Titans track team paced by distance runners
Olympus High distance runners take off at the Alpha Invitational. The girls team took second while the boys placed third. (Anna Mitchell/Olympus Track and Field)
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Max Spence’s dad was a professional distance runner but when Spence, who had experienced just about every sport, was in junior high his dad suggested he try out running.
“My dad didn't ever want to push me into it but…I was pretty good so I decided to keep going with it,” Spence said.
In the midst of his senior season at Olympus High School, Spence—the reigning 1600-meter state champion—not only plans to beat his father’s high school personal bests, but is part of an elite group of distance runners.
The group won the boys cross country state championship last fall while the girls finished in the top 10.
“We've used cross country to really help develop the distance runners for track as well,” said track and field head coach Todd Mitchell. He also coaches the Titans’ cross country team.
Mitchell arrived at the school six years ago to a team bereft of distance runners. There were three boys and one girl.
After much recruiting his first couple years, Mitchell now coaches the defending region champs in both boys and girls.
“I think it’s been finding success that has has helped us to get to this point. I don't think we can go a whole lot bigger,” Mitchell said of the roster size.
Of the 80 athletes on the team, 30 of them are distance runners.
“What's been so awesome is there's been so many new athletes coming,” said junior Hannah Hall, who runs the 800 and 1600. “I think just getting people here and officially joining the team just gets us to a higher level.”
One of those new athletes who arrived a year ago was Hall.
Having played soccer her whole life, Hall was burning out her sophomore year at the end of the high school season. One day, while running along 4500 South, she ran into the track team with Mitchell inviting her to come try it out.
“I've been coming every day ever since. I just completely converted, decided soccer wasn't for me and joined the team and I've loved it, it's been the best thing for me,” said Hall, who had resisted overtures from the track team before.
What drew her in was what Mitchell said is his track philosophy: it’s a team sport.
“I love just being able to go on a run and talk to all my best friends,” Hall said. “It's the best…we're always wanting to push each other so that we're all getting better.”
Spence, who committed to run at Southern Utah University, said running up to 70 miles a week together creates a bond and Mitchell pointed out a bond like that helps them come together. In a sport where individual events rack up team points, it also becomes essential for success.
“When people are performing for the team, they perform at higher level,” Mitchell said.
The boys and girls teams finished in the top 10 at state a season ago and the Titans hope to improve on that finish with goals for a region championship and to finish in the top five.
“As a team, I hope we can take state, we have a chance. It'll be a long shot but I think we can do it,” said Spence adding he hopes to defend his crown while gunning for a title in the 800 and 3200.
To achieve those goals Mitchell said they’ll need a well-rounded performance at the region meet and some elite performances at the state level.
Senior Nate Osterstock might be one of those performances. He broke the school record in the 3200 with a time of 9:08:87. Along with junior Katie Duckworth, they qualified and competed at a competition in California in April.
There is a lot mental and physical preparation, Mitchell said, with it intended for runners to peak at state. He said it is difficult. Every runner is different and every event lends to unique preparations.
“There is an art to it as well as the science of it,” he said.
Creating an atmosphere of excellence has taken time since Mitchell arrived here from the Midwest, where he grew up. Having a group of quality distance runners has been a process. Osterstock, who is looking at SUU, Colorado State and Boise State as potential suitors, started out running the mile at 5:08.
“It's been developing and working over time, and these guys have put in the work over the past couple years to see it pay off now,” Mitchell said. “I think the fact that they have each other to push each other. They run for their team, I think that all helps.”