At Woodward Academy, cross country is a team sport. Since 2006, the Knights have qualified for the Iowa High School State Meet three times (’06, ’07, ’12) and the runners from this year’s team were looking to add to that legacy. Head Coach Jason Anderson has led each of those teams to State and knew this team had the potential to be very special early in the season. “This team never quit. They came to practice every day and wanted to work. They never gave up and they kept their eyes on the goal.” That goal was to make it to State.
Like all sports at Woodward Academy, most of this year’s runners were new to cross country, and they would need to be coached. Anderson and his assistant coach, Aric Rush, have worked together since 2012 and they have a similar philosophy when it comes to cross country. They are both positively idealistic, and this leadership is reflected in the team. It has to be. Cross country is hard work. Coach Rush was joking when he said “our sport is other sport’s punishment,” but he is kind of right.
Both coaches stressed that the most difficult aspect of cross country is building the mental determination in the runners. Rush commented that “cross country is always a good idea to most students… until it gets hard. Top runners overcome that and motivated runners excel.” That was the kind of team the Knights had this year. Desmond Edwards was the top runner for the team much of the season, but he was surrounded by a lot of inspired runners. Even on easy days, practice often turned competitive because the runners wanted to log quicker times or beat their teammates. That level of grit was an instinct in this team and perhaps the most determining factor to their success.
All season, the Knights competed against top schools, many of which were larger than Woodward Academy and who had an established cross country program. Although they did not win meets, the Knights used the competition to increase their 3.1 mile times and they peaked at the right time. When it came to districts, the hard work paid off. Desmond Edwards and Ricky Gabbard finished 6th and 14th, qualifying themselves for State individually. But it was the second wave of runners who made the difference and pushed the team to State. Each position, and each runner counts. Many cross country teams undervalue the 6th and 7th runners on the team, but for the Knights, they are who made the difference. After edging out a couple runners at the end, the Knights placed 3rd at Districts after beating Des Moines Christian by 2 points.
On October 31, the Knights represented Woodward Academy at the Iowa High School State Cross Country meet, annually held in Fort Dodge. You can see highlights from the meet in the video above.