By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — All five runners on McAlester’s junior high cross country team set personal records at the 20th Annual Jr. High All-Star Championships on Oct. 18 at Woodson Park in Oklahoma City.
To finish second in 5A, the Jr. Buffs just needed a sixth runner.
Both Carl Albert and McAlester scored 56 points at the meet, but because Carl Albert entered 10 racers, it took the second-place tiebreaker, dropping McAlester to third.
Tahlequah won 5A with 55 points.
“I’ve been coaching for like 25 years, probably, and that is the most exciting meet I’ve ever been to,” McAlester coach Susanne Carney said Wednesday.
“They run with such passion.”
Jake Rattan led his team as he’s done all season, finishing the two-mile race first in his class in 11 minutes even. Rattan said he usually tries to run just behind the front pack for the first 800 meters of the race, then burst in front and set the pace for the remaining 2,400 meters.
“Try to stay at a pace that’s hard for anybody to keep up,” Rattan said.
“When you pass people, it breaks them down mentally, and they start going slower.”
Carney said Rattan and a Tahlequah runner jockeyed for first throughout the second half of the race. But after Jake made his final push, the Tahlequah runner fell all the way back to third.
“I’ve lived with him my entire life, and I’ve never seen him tired,” Matt Rattan, Jake’s brother and teammate, said of Jake.
“He’s efficient,” assistant coach Josh Carney added. “There’s no wasted movement.”
Jr. Buffs trio Isaac Briggs, Cody Norriss and Matt Rattan finished ninth, 10th and 12th, respectively. Coach Carney said the three tried to run together at the championship to push other runners into lower finishes, a cross country strategy known as “displacement.”
The strategy worked: Briggs finished in 11:38, Norriss finished two seconds later and Matt Rattan finished one second after that in 11:41.
“I try to start fast, because I’m not as quick when it comes to running short distances,” Matt Rattan said. Susanne Carney added that Matt is a very smart runner, able to strategize and maximize his athletic ability.
Norriss, Matt Rattan and Isaac Briggs all said Briggs is typically the one to keep the pack together. Carney added that while Jake Rattan may be the most explosive, Briggs has the fastest foot speed.
“I pay attention to everybody, the way that they move their hands and arms, to good form,” Briggs said. “If they’re going too hard at the very, very beginning, I tell them. I say, ‘Hey, you have a couple more miles left, save the energy until the last bit.’”
Brayden McKelvey, the team’s fifth runner, finished 32nd in 12:35. Despite running on a rainy, cold day, McKelvey set a personal best at the championship, knocking 1:20 off his previous best.
“I barely crossed the line,” McKelvey said. Susanne Carney added that though McKelvey didn’t win as many individual medals as his teammates, “He’s the reason why we win trophies.”
Despite missing first place by one point and second place by one runner, the Jr. Buffs still had without a doubt their most successful cross country season in school history. Susanne Carney said the Jr. Buffs are no longer a “jogging club” meant for socialization and a bit of exercise, and she credited the team’s transformation into a true competitive team to assistant coach and son Josh Carney.
“Over the summer, I would say that mainly my goal was to get as fast as that guy,” Jake Rattan said of Josh Carney.
All five Jr. Buffs said they intended to run track in the spring. Matt and Jake Rattan will wrestle in the winter, while Briggs, Norriss and McKelvey will focus on off-season running.
All five said they’ll run varsity cross country at McAlester High School.
As for the future of the Jr. Buffs, only Norriss is a seventh-grade student who’ll be back next year. At the championships Norriss took more than a minute off his time, finally breaking the six-minute mile mark.
“My first mile was like a 6:30, and I wasn’t very proud of that,” Norriss said. “The entire year, I just wanted to break six.”
Susanne Carney said she hopes the success of this year’s junior high team brings out more runners in the coming seasons, possibly even leading to the creation of an elementary school team in McAlester. But she also acknowledged that with four of her runners moving onto MHS, the 2013 Jr. Buffs could be a one-and-done phenomenon.
But if this was the Jr. Buffs’ one year as an elite junior high cross country team, what a year it was.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.