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Maryvale track coach’s philosophy of fun leads to depth and titles

For The Baltimore Sun
Maryvale track coach's philosophy of fun helps to triple size of team.

When Jason Miller became the Maryvale cross country and track coach in the fall of 2005, the program needed to grow in several ways.

The team lacked a track to run on, so they spray-painted a 200-meter oval on the grass. There were only about 30 girls on the indoor team that winter and no outdoor track team yet.

But times have changed at Maryvale. The Lions will feature nearly 80 girls on their indoor track roster this winter; the school has a track plus an outdoor team and has won the last four Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference titles in running — two in a row in cross country plus indoor and outdoor track last year.

Top track and field teams rely heavily on depth, and Miller knew his Lions needed much more when he took over.

"We just had to get the numbers up," Miller said. "The girls were having fun, but we decided we needed to step up our game and make things more fun to have more people come out for the program."

Miller and assistant coach Kyle Reagan encouraged girls on the team to bring others to tryouts. They explained that track is not all about running, and the girls might have some fun.

That's a philosophy Maryvale's program still benefits from today and why the team nearly tripled in size in 11 years.

"We're always looking at next year's group and trying to plan out the future," Miller said. "Bringing new people, I think they came out because it's a fun environment. I think it's worked out really, really well."

Miller and his staff do a lot to keep things fun while the athletes put in the necessary hard work. If the girls are in the gym, the coaches blast plenty of music — and they do the same if the athletes are working with weights. Some of the groups do a "Secret Santa" while others do a "Race Sisters" event, where one girl gets another a present before a race or sends a note of encouragement.

The night before a championship meet, Miller takes the team to his mother's house for a meal, and the team talks, relaxes and spends the evening together. Miller said they work hard at keeping the environment as loose as possible for the girls all the time, even though they constantly work outdoors during the winter.

And the team has noticed.

"We all love coming to practice because we know we're going to be laughing and having fun," said top distance runner Emily Craig. "I know that, especially when we're doing hard workouts, it helps so much because we're all cheering for each other."

Adam Hittner is one of Hereford's track coaches, and he ran with Miller in college at Towson University. Hittner worked with Miller at times years ago and said that the coach's enthusiasm simply caught on at Maryvale.

"The coaches were extremely passionate about building that program almost completely from scratch," Hittner said. "They [got] the girls in the school excited about it, and it proved to be infectious."

The success also feels good. Maryvale came close a few times before finally breaking through last fall and winning the cross country title. After that, the Lions captured the indoor and outdoor crowns, and they did it again with cross country in the fall.

"When you win a banner, it feels great to win," Craig said. "It's just going to want to make you keep winning."

Said Maryvale senior Courtney Kenny: "I think it's just made our track team seem to be more something people take seriously [at school]."

Miller said winning outdoors last year after taking the indoor IAAM title could be a big plus this winter since track is different from cross country, a sport that involves just distance running.

"I think it helps us out a lot," he said. "Knowing what we were able to accomplish in outdoor track and who we have returning, that should help us in indoor."

Maryvale works hard and won't ease up just because they've won a bunch of championships in a row. Simply put, the Lions want more.

They hope to win all three titles in a school year for the second consecutive time. The Lions are far past just wanting to be competitive.

"We're just going to keep building the program and have fun while doing it," Miller said. "You can't win forever [but] no matter what, I always want to be a top three team, even in the rebuilding phase."

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