South Carroll track coach Rob Pennington saw the indoor track season as the perfect way to prepare his boys for the outdoor season. The Cavaliers have a solid nucleus of athletes, especially in distance events, that should make them one of Carroll County's and the region's better Class 3A teams this spring.
But this indoor season turned out a whole lot better than Pennington expected.
South Carroll used that strong distance talent to become one of this winter's biggest surprises. The Cavaliers had a solid regular season, finished second in the county meet and then scored an impressive victory in last Monday's Class 3A-2A Central Region meet.
They're are on a roll heading into the Class 3A-2A state meet on Feb. 17. Led by distance performers Dan Reedy, Phil Diven and others, South Carroll is hoping to at least crack the top 10 in a meet loaded with tough teams.
"That would be a good thing for our program," Pennington said. "They're pumped. They're ready to go. We would much rather the race be tomorrow than a week from now."
Pennington and his team were pleasantly surprised at winning the region meet. When, with one event left Monday, the scores were announced and showed South Carroll had basically clinched the title, the usually stoic Pennington's jaw dropped and he shook his fists in jubilation. The Cavaliers had 76 points, far ahead of Randallstown's 53.
"We've turned the corner now," Pennington said. "We've gone from being a group of kids just getting in shape to [being a competitor]."
The Cavaliers' distance runners have carried the team throughout. They helped pull off a surprising win in the Frostbite Invitational in Hagerstown, knocking off longtime county rival and power Westminster. South Carroll finished second in the county meet and fifth - Carroll County's best finish - in the Central Maryland Conference meet.
Diven and Reedy have led the way. In the region meet, Diven won the 1,600, took second in the 3,200 and fifth in the 800. He also helped the 3,200-meter relay team win its race.
Reedy's night was almost as good. He won the 3,200, beating Diven by 3.4 seconds. Reedy also took fifth in the 1,600 and was on the winning 3,200 relay team plus the 1,600 relay group that took second. --Overall, Reedy and Diven combined to help score 50 of the team's 76 points.
"It's all everybody talked about for a couple of days," Reedy said. "I think everybody is so happy to get to the states [because] we're usually not a powerhouse indoors."
Carroll County has only offered indoor track since the mid-1990s. South Carroll is in just its fifth year of the sport after succeeding in cross country (state titles in 1997, 1998 and 2000, plus four region championships). But each of those teams relied heavily on a single runner, and what thrills Pennington is his current team gets points from a lot of places.
In the region meet, Brendan Grant won the 55-meter hurdles while Darrin Arbaugh (third in the 800, fourth in the 1,600, plus the two relays) and Jonnie Jenkins (fourth in the high jump and the two relays) gave the Cavaliers major lifts.
"We do better in the larger meets," Diven said. "But the guys we have who can do well in the small meets can also get points in the larger meets."
South Carroll also has gotten pleasant surprises from such athletes as Arbaugh and Jenkins. Knee injuries slowed Arbaugh throughout his career but he's remained healthy this winter and has helped the Cavaliers greatly.
"This is the first year they've actually needed me," Arbaugh said. "I've loved it. I have a lot of confidence now, and I didn't when I started the season."
Said Pennington: "He's running out of his mind."
Jenkins is the school's first high jumper in indoor track and said the fact the team gets help from many quarters takes the pressure off and is vital to its success.
"We've fought through a lot to get where we are right now," Jenkins said. "We've done really well throughout the season."
The Cavaliers also got a bit of a break in the region meet, going against such powerful teams as Randallstown and Milford Mill that rarely score points in distance races. Pennington and some of the South Carroll runners agreed that opened the door for the Cavaliers.
But that's also why South Carroll feels no pressure heading into the state meet. No one expected so much success from the Cavaliers indoors.
No matter what happens in the state meet, Pennington has much to look forward to this spring.
So, the best-laid plans sometimes do work out - even if in unusual ways.
"It made the winter go by a little quicker," Pennington said with a laugh. "And we have a solid nucleus for outdoor track."