Cougars XC Supports Community

Photo | Cara O’Connor Coach Seann Pelkey works with his cross country team during a recent summer practice.

Photo | Cara O’Connor
Coach Seann Pelkey works with his cross country team during a recent summer practice.

In the 25 years since its inception, the Kentlands/Lakelands 5K Run/Walk, which is slated for Sept. 1, has grown from a small hyper-local event into one of the county’s—and state’s—largest races. Still, it has never lost its community feel, 19th-year Quince Orchard High School cross country coach Seann Pelkey said. And that is why whenever scheduling allows, he and the Cougars squad get involved.

While cross country “looks and smells just like an individual sport,” it’s actually quite team-oriented, Pelkey said. Meet results are tabulated by adding together the finishing positions of a team’s top five (of seven) starting runners, meaning the fewer the points, the better. Therefore, cohesion, camaraderie and trust among teammates are vital to a team’s success within the scoring system. Plus, it’s easier for athletes to push themselves outside of their comfort zones—and endure the pain—when their teammates are all going through the same thing, Pelkey added.

“We have a chance to give back to the community and contribute to a charity event, which is a little bit bigger than any of us,” Pelkey said. “It’s great if we can start a season with that sense of community. The next step from community is team.”

The Kentlands/Lakelands 5K benefits the Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF), a non-profit organization geared toward connecting individuals and families and encouraging civic involvement within the community.

In the weeks leading up to the race, Quince Orchard cross country student-athletes, who will compete in the event as a team, have been spreading the word—handing out and posting flyers—and they also will help ensure the course is clear on the morning of the race by informing residents who need to move their cars.

“This is something people can do as families and as neighbors,” Pelkey said. “It’s a really fun competition and you can set up all types of teams, like father/daughter, mother/son, husband/wife and brother/sister teams. Community members are course marshals, people come out (into the streets) and cheer you on. People come out for the ceremony.”

The Kentlands/Lakelands 5K is run on a USA Track and Field-certified course through both communities. There are two water stops and live entertainment along the way. Though Aug. 31 marks the first official play day, per Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association regulations, the community event will serve as the Cougars’ first race of the 2018 season.

“For our purposes, it’s great for our runners to get in that first race of the season in a ‘non-competitive’ race; non-competitive meaning it’s not a (sanctioned) team race,” Pelkey said. “We could’ve chosen to go to a real cross country meet but the community meet tends to be our focus. We’ll have plenty other opportunities, and this is a great chance for us to see alumni.”

The event also tends to be a good introduction to the sport for some elementary- and middle school-aged children, Pelkey said, who can start to identify themselves as runners and pick up some experience before they even reach the high school team. Many of the area’s youth grow up playing soccer and lacrosse and the transition to running is not a drastic one. But there are also a whole bunch of kids who have never really participated in a sport and cross country is one in which anyone can step in and, with hard work, improve. The key, Pelkey said, is just to try it; to get out there, go through the motions, learn how to set goals and work to achieve them.

Between the graduation of some topnotch runners and the decision of others to step away from the sport, this year’s Quince Orchard cross country squad will have some soul searching to do early on as the Cougars find their identity.

Senior Noah Buchsbaum, who has notched more than 400 miles over the summer, has surfaced as a strong number one and, with the support of sophomore Benji Dubin and junior Colby Sisco, among a few others, leads what promises to be a quality packed team.

Senior Margaret Lilyestrom, who was the Cougars girls’ second finisher at last year’s state competition (33rd of nearly 200 runners) where Quince Orchard finished 10th, has also emerged as a strong number one. While there is no clear number two yet, Pelkey said there are five or six girls, both veterans and newcomers, with the ability to fill that slot. And closing the gap between teammates—especially at the top—is integral.

“The way cross country is scored, if there are 30 or 40 seconds between runners, that’s where another team is going to be,” Pelkey said. “If that gap is between your number one and your number two runner, that’s a huge vulnerability because if a team puts five runners in there, you can’t compete with that. Hopefully we can put together a good pack and then work on moving that pack up throughout the season.”