By Kevin Green
To be the best, you have to beat the best.
That is exactly what the Stillwater High School boys’ cross-country team plans to do at the regional meet at O’Brien Park in Tulsa at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday.
Team and individual rankings are released periodically on ohs.com, and for weeks, the No. 16 Pioneers’ ranking has fluctuated.
In the first rankings of the season released on Sept. 14, by ohs.com, Stillwater came in 12th on Class 6A’s 16-team poll. There are 32 cross-country teams in 6A.
Since then, the Pioneers have dropped out the rankings, and re-entered the poll ranked 16th on Oct. 19.
The Pioneers will participate in the East Region, and to qualify for the state meet, they will need to place in the top seven, for the top seven teams from each region advance.
However, nine teams in the region are ranked above Stillwater.
Coach David Crynes said knowing where the team is ranked headed into the regional meet can be an advantage and a disadvantage, but he doesn’t take much stock in the rankings.
“Coaches use them when they are ranked high because you can use them to re-enforce the hard work you’ve done and to motivate people,” Crynes said. “When you end up on the short end of a ranking, the tendency is to ignore them because they’re not scientific and they’re based on one or two coaches’ opinions; there’s no real accuracy to them.”
The coaches have stopped looking at the rankings because regardless of where they are ranked, they know how well they have done and how hard they have worked, and they don’t want the boys to get discouraged. Crynes said he feels like the boys have one thing to prove at the regional meet, but it has nothing to do with rankings. The team is running against its history.
“There’s been some good runners and there’s been some good teams, but we’re trying to establish sustained excellence year in and year out,” Crynes said. “This will be the first year to move the program in that direction.”
One of the keys to making that happen for the boys is sophomore Vlad Munteanu.
Crynes has a lot of confidence in Munteanu, for Munteanu is the fastest runner on the team and has continually improved. Crynes said he believes Munteanu can place in the top 10 at the regional meet and lead the team to its second straight state meet appearance.
Munteanu is ranked 13th in Class 6A.
“My biggest challenge is going to be keeping my mind on the prize and running the best race I can without blowing my engine in the first mile,” Munteanu said.
Munteanu said the team has focused most of its effort this week on recovering and being focused. He said the coaches have done all they can do, and now it is up to the team to show what it can do.
“The advantages we have as a team are the miles on our legs,” Munteanu said. “We just need to trust our training and run the best race we can. We are not running for ourselves; we are running for the person next to us and mostly the seniors because this race could potentially be their last race.”
Senior Jay Ogle is aware of that, and he knows what has to be done to keep both his and the team’s season alive.
“We definitely think we have a chance, but at the same time, we can’t mess around,” Ogle said. “We have to get locked in and make sure we are 100 percent focused. I think if we stay mentally focused and there’s no distractions, then that, in turn, will lead to good performances.”
Crynes said he knows it will be a difficult task for the team to qualify for the state meet, but said that is the position he wants the boys to be in.
“We like being the underdog; we like being on the bubble and sneaking up on people,” Crynes said. “I think that gives us the desperation we wouldn’t have if we were ranked in the top 10.”