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Cross Country: After two straight second place state finishes, Lambert's boys are working to break through
Lambert XC
From waking up earlier than most for workouts to 15-mile runs on Kennesaw Mountain, Lambert's boys cross country team is doing everything it can to close the gap between them and a state title. From left, Alex Kleckley, Lucas Bekele, Garrett Holt, Kyle Parker, Tucker Kim, Cooper Bocko and Colin Chapman. - photo by David Almeda

As bright stadium lights cut through a dark morning sky with mist and intermittent rain filling the air, Lambert’s boys cross country team was busy sacrificing time – and sleep.

Waking up before the sun rises isn’t exactly a novel concept for a high school student, but the Longhorns constantly take that a step further. On Tuesday morning, practice began at 6:15, and runners were accordingly tired.

But as miserable as those early morning runs can be sometimes, all of that was better than the alternative – running in the dreadful heat in the afternoon, or worse yet, not being ready for the races that matter most at the end of the season.

“I think being able to get up this early just shows our dedication and that we’re not putting in this work for nothing,” Garrett Holt said.

Lambert has plenty of motivation to put in the work for this year. For the last two seasons, the Longhorns have finished second at the state meet, and with almost everyone from last year back wiser and stronger, they feel like they have a chance to break through to the top spot. The work to achieve that goal started well before the season, with runners finding ways to improve their times over the summer. As the year goes on, the workload will only continue to get greater as the biggest races quickly approach.

“They've probably had the best summer of training they've ever had since I've been here at Lambert,” boys cross country coach James Tigue said. “It's just lots of mileage, lots of easy stuff -- we haven't really done a lot of hard workouts or anything like that yet. We've still got two and a half months to get ready for state, so it's steady running and then we start throwing in some harder workouts.”

The Longhorns’ second-place finish at state last year was made more impressive by just how young they were. Each of Lambert’s top three finishers at that meet were sophomores, with Cooper Bocko leading at 12th with a time of 16:51.55, followed by Adam Nicholason and Colin Chapman.

“I think as our team gets older, our team gets stronger, too,” Chapman said. “We proved last year with five sophomores on the team and one senior that regardless of our class at the time, we were still strong in and of ourselves.”

A lot of the Longhorns’ growth has come before school started, with some of the work coming on the runners’ own time. When the team isn’t at the school, Chattahoochee Pointe Park is their go-to as a group, and different runners have their own spots, whether that’s on vacation or in different parts of the state.

One spot stands out above than the rest, though – Kennesaw Mountain in Cobb County. On Sundays over the summer, some runners did their long 15-mile runs there, and despite it being an hour away, the number of trails it boasts made the trip worth making.

“You’re getting way more work in and you feel better when you finish because you’re like, ‘I just ran 15 miles on a mountain,’” Chapman said.

Those summer runs are aimed at improving conditioning and individual times. While a lot of those summer workouts are segmented, though, the team found a way to get together before the season began with a team camp at Berry College.

“If the team has been separated over the summer, our team camp kind of brings us together,” Kyle Parker said. “I think that kind of helps us realize that we're in this for a team -- this isn’t just an individual sport.”

And Lambert will need that team unity to get to where they want to go this year. The competition looks to be stiff as ever, with rival South Forsyth coming off a state title and West Forsyth, Walton and Brookwood all looking like solid contenders as well. What happens with the Longhorns will all come back to their work and sacrifices they make.

“We're going to be better this year, but that may not translate to a better position at state,” Tigue said. “We haven't really raced some of the major teams this year, so we really don't know how we stack up. But if we can stay healthy and if we can keep improving and learn how to run as a team, we'll be hard to beat.”