It was about this time last year—indoor track season—that Urbana High School boys’ cross country and track coach Tim Snyder began planting the seeds for Jonathan Mason’s switch from boys’ soccer to cross country for the fall of his senior year. Mason, primarily a middle distance runner who was skeptical enough about a two-mile race let alone three-plus miles through hilly courses on unpredictable terrain, essentially laughed in his coach’s face, Snyder fondly recalled.
But Mason’s potential was no joke and midway through 2018 he’d already established himself as one of Urbana’s all-time best cross country athletes. While many boys spend their entire four-year high school tenures striving to break the 18-minute mark, Mason nearly broke 17 minutes in his first-ever cross country race, finishing sixth at the 36th Annual Brunswick Invitational on Sept. 1.
By Oct. 19, Mason had shaved nearly 90 seconds off his time to finish fourth at the Central Maryland Conference championship in 15 minutes, 58.8 seconds, the seventh fastest time in the program’s 24-year history.
Mason, who finished sixth at the Frederick County meet on Oct. 25 in a personal best (for a 5K) 16:06.0, clinched a top 15 result at the stacked Class 4A North Region meet on Nov. 2 to become the lone male Hawk state qualifier. He finished 45th at states on Nov. 10; his time of 17:25.0 would have put him in the top 15 of the Class 3A meet, in which Urbana competed until last year’s reclassification.
Snyder attributed Mason’s meteoric rise to an “incredible growth mindset.” Distance running is not a sport where athletes can take shortcuts and Mason’s attention to—and value of—all the little details, coupled with his all-in mentality, laid the foundation for his success. Mason, who acknowledged he’s motivated by competition, said he used to worry about the stress running all out for three miles might put on his body, but he now feels stronger in the later stages of a race.
“Jonathan embraced the challenge of trying a brand new sport; he went out in the summer and applied the base building program I provide the boys with and even called me once to go over it,” Snyder said. “He knew he was taking a major risk by trying something brand new, but his open mind, his work ethic and his growth mindset carried him the distance.”
Mason’s accomplishments set an invaluable example for younger teammates this fall that anything is possible with hard work and persistence, Snyder said. Though the Hawks will graduate three of their top seven at regionals, Urbana was propelled this season by a deep contingent, including juniors Luke Hartlaub and Alec Boron, that should remain in county contention.
In addition to Snyder’s and his teammates’ encouragement and support, Mason said 2018 Urbana graduate and good friend Charlie Martinez, who ran cross country for the first time as a senior, played a major role in his decision.
“It’s never too late to try new things,” Mason said. “You’ll never know if you’re good at something until you try it.”