The Howard cross country team made a conscious effort this season to preview postseason courses. To prepare for the league championships at Centennial, they competed in the Howard County Invitational at the school more than a month earlier. For the region and state meets, they arrived at race sites the Saturday beforehand.
But for Lions senior Nick Deamer, previewing only the big-meet courses wasn’t enough. So, some time during his sophomore year, he began surveying the courses before every race, typically on Sundays with his dad. He followed that routine until the end of his high school career.
“He’s doing the little things, which often go overlooked by high school runners,” coach Zachary Dickerson said. “Making sure that you’re stretching, making sure that you’re eating right, getting the proper sleep. Those things allow you to stay injury free and be able to get the consistent training in.”
Combined with his natural ability and vigorous work ethic, Deamer set personal-record times every season and, in his senior campaign, cleared time hurdles none of his county competitors could match. He finished each postseason race — county, region and state — in under 16 minutes. The next best league time in any of those races was five seconds after that mark.
That type of dominance made Deamer the easy choice for Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys cross country Runner of the Year.
Such lofty senior year expectations were realistic for Deamer based on what he accomplished during his first three campaigns. He entered the program in 2014 and ended that season as the Lions’ No. 1 runner at states, finishing 47th with a time of 17 minutes, 40.30 seconds.
Dickerson wasn’t surprised. He knew Deamer could be a renowned competitor based solely on his work ethic and the times he came into high school with.
Granted Deamer followed the Lions’ training program and stayed healthy — which he did — Dickerson saw “big things” ahead for his young runner.
As expected, Deamer steadily progressed. After running the county race in 18:13 his first year — good for a 16th-place finish — he took third and fourth, respectively, the following two seasons and shaved two minutes off his freshman time. He improved from 19th to fifth to second at the 4A North meet and took fifth at the 2016 state meet (16:27.70).
In both his sophomore and junior seasons, Deamer made first-team All-County.
All the while, Deamer didn’t forget about the little things. He stretched after every workout. He ran strides to loosen up his legs and develop more speed. He stay hydrated and kept Dickerson informed of his daily health.
Since arriving at Howard in 2014, the duo was taking all the necessary measures to prepare Deamer for a county-, region- and state-title run his final season.
“It’s both a good feeling and it can be a little pressure-filled, too, because I don’t want to screw it up,” Dickerson said of helping Deamer develop. “But at the same time, it’s fun having a guy at his talent level. To be able to go to a meet and know that I’m going to have a guy that’s going to be able to mix it up and try to win pretty much every meet that we go to.”
Running with what Dickerson refers to as quiet confidence, Deamer began his senior sendoff by nearly breaking the Centennial High School course record with his winning time of 15:57.20 at the Howard County Invitational on Sept. 9.
Later in the year, he took the lead at the region and state race about halfway through but couldn’t sustain his advantage, settling for second and third, respectively. Still, he broke the 16-minute mark in both races for the first time in his career.
“Ran great races both days,” Dickerson said. “Just got beat by better people on those days.”
By that point, though, Deamer had already accomplished his No. 1 goal entering the season: a county championship.
At that meet, Deamer planned to pace himself the first mile and then attack the first big hill at Centennial to break away from the pack.
Deamer executed the strategy “perfectly,” Dickerson said, and ran the final two miles alone en route to winning the race by about 25 seconds. His time of 15:41.14 crushed the course record of 15:56 and made him Howard’s first individual county champion since Danny Rau in 2012.
“The Howard County championships was one of my best races just because I got into a rhythm by myself and I just kept pushing,” Deamer said.
And Deamer’s awards didn’t end there. Behind him came junior Alex Strawley (sixth, 16:35.91), senior Eric Accardi (ninth, 16:39.57), freshman Kendall Phillips (33rd, 17:25.13) and senior Zach Allen (34th, 17:27.28). Combining these individual performances, Howard accomplished a rare feat.
For the first team since 1977, the Lions were county champions.
“The first championship in 40 years, and [Deamer] was a huge part of that,” said Dickerson, who ran for the program in the early 2000s. “I think that day was special for him. I know it was special for me.”
Deamer hasn’t decided where he’ll attend college but knows he wants run and study meteorology. If necessary, he’ll choose between cross country and track and field, but it likely won’t be an easy decision. Last spring, he set his personal best in the 1,600-meter race, finishing in 4:22.12 to take fourth at the state meet. He also runs the two-mile (3,200 meters).
As for cross country, Deamer and his senior teammates have changed the culture of the Lions program, according to their coach.
They’ve taken training and competing more seriously, and Dickerson said that mindset has rubbed off on the younger runners, who look up to upperclassmen like Deamer. He’s a coachable, year-round runner who religiously follows his daily workouts and rarely takes days off, even during the summer.
In return, Deamer has provided them with a blueprint for achieving sustained excellence and helping Howard build on their recent team accomplishments.
“Just showing everyone how much hard work pays off and just all the little stuff that counts,” Deamer said. “And hopefully giving Howard the mentality of, ‘We’re a top team in the county, and hopefully in a couple of years, we’ll be the top in the region and the state.’”
Also named to the first-team:
Greg Costello, Centennial, senior
Costello first made a name for himself at the county championships when he took third (16:17.53) on his home course. He continued to impress with a second-place finish at the 3A East region meet (16:52.20) and took 10th at the state meet (17:06.71).
Frederick Eiland II, Oakland Mills, junior
Eiland followed up a fifth-place finish in the county race (16:34.78) by finishing 10th at the 2A South region meet (17:30.65). At states, Eiland placed 33rd and was the fourth runner from the county to cross the finish line (17:22.61).
Kai Muniz, Reservoir, senior
Muniz built on last season’s first-team All-County selection by improving in each postseason race. First, he earned runner-up behind Deamer at the count meet (16:05.80) and followed that up by winning his first 3A East region title (16:32.30). At the state meet, Muniz crossed the finish third with a time of 16:18.22, almost 30 seconds faster than his performance at Hereford the year before.
Anish Nanjappa, River Hill, sophomore
Nanjappa stepped in as the Hawks’ No. 1 runner this season and proved to be one of the more consistent runners in the county. He placed fourth at the county meet (16:28.37), second at the 2A South race (16:36.95) and fifth at the state championships (16:27.31). He should again be one of the area’s best runners next season.
Alex Strawley, Howard, junior
Along with Deamer, Strawley played a significant role in Howard winning its first county championship in 40 years this fall. He served as the Lions’ No. 2 runner at the event with a sixth-place finish (16:35.91). He then took 12th in the 4A North race (16:39.1) and came in 33rd at the state meet (17:13.23).