Winning a state championship as a team takes the hard work and commitment of all seven runners in a race and that’s what makes the Hereford boys’ feat of three straight Class 3A state titles a phenomenal achievement.
Hereford captured the boys 3A race Saturday morning at Hereford High by putting two of its runners in the top five and three others in the top 20.
All seven champions were seniors and they finished with 52 points, well ahead of runner-up Thomas Johnson (115).
Jon Luckin (3rd, 16:22.9) was followed closely by Julian Rivera (4, 16:28.9).
Kevin Payne (15, 17:15.1), Kevin Collins (16, 17:15.4) and Gabe Rivera (19, 17:17.6) also placed in the top 20.
Aaron Leininger (85, 18:29.9) and Mike Witman (132, 19:15.6) rounded out the championship squad.
Luckin and Rivera both had individual goals of winning the race, but hit obstacles along the way and Annapolis senior Harry Bullen (16:19.5) and Howard senior Danny Rau (16:20.2) led the field.
“Jon was flagging coming out of the maze and I told him, ‘Jon, don’t give up on it because you have a great kick’ and he put himself right in there, Hereford coach Jason Bowman said.
“Julian ran a great race, a gutsy race,” Bowman said. “His move was just a little bit too soon.”
When Julian lost the lead in the maze, he knew he could rely on his team.
“I was in the lead coming up the dip and me and the dip don’t get along so well,” Rivera said. “I just wanted to go out and be in the race and I was there and I had a good shot, but it didn’t end the way I wanted, but we still got our championship.”
They got it because Payne, Collins and Gabe Rivera were consistent and near the front.
“That’s what makes our team,” Bowman said. “That’s what wins races, our three, four and five runners. They are so tough and have run so well all year.”
Luckin knew after he finished third and looked back and saw his teammates near the front the Bulls had done something historic.
“Our philosophy in team racing is we all go out and run the absolute best we can and the team results will come,” Luckin said.
For the third straight year they produced a state championship.
“These guys made the program, they turned the program around,” Bowman said. “That was a special group and they capitalized on it.”
The Hereford girls are a special group and, like the boys, have been for three years, winning back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011.
But they struggled through adversity this season, with the loss to injury of elite junior runner Sara Carter, after a serious SUV accident before the season, and nagging injuries to junior Erin Causey, winner of the 2010 individual state championship race.
Causey ran last year’s race with stomach pain and finished fifth — before she realized she was allergic to gluten.
That is now under control, but she also had issues with a hip flexor earlier this season.