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New X-country coach hopes to follow in Sutherland's footsteps

Front Row: (left to right) G. Hogan, T. Kwapis, N. Bruce and J. Schenten. Second Row: B. Vandecar, J. Ufolla, J. Cutler, J.P. Sutherland, C. Corrion, A. Simat, D. Rodriguez and M. Aleman. Third Row: Coach Kieve Johnson, L. Bruni, R. Gillespie, L .Balicki, G. Wellens, E. Schlickenmeyer, C. Conely, R. Dvorak and Coach E. Ball. Coach M. Johnson. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
August 22, 2012 - By Curtis Pulliam

Leader Intern

The Oxford High School cross country program has had the same face leading the way for a long time. However this year, new head coach Matt Johnson is looking to pick up where long time head coach Ray Sutherland left off.

"I'm trying to bring stability and continuity in the first year after a longterm coach has been there," Johnson said. "Because that's usually a hardship going from someone who's been leading it on and off for 38 years."

Although this is Johnson's first year at the helm of the program, he did work as an assistant with the track team last year.

"Coach Sutherland and I had a lot in common in the track season, he was a big component and a big push for me to have the job because we have a very similar coaching style," said Johnson. "We both try to coach as encouragers and equip them with the right things they need to know."

Last year, the girls team finished top ten in the state but lost a few key runners due to graduation. However, Johnson is still positive about this year's girls team.

"We went from running a strong team in numbers to running about 12 right now," Johnson said. "Our strong runner Brooke Kovacic, who is being recruited all over the nation, she's just an amazing runner. There are a couple other seniors Abby Wrobel, and Lauren Ubbing. But then we have some strong underclassmen with them."

As for the boys team, Johnson has a very large team, with 37 boys on the roster.

"Our top runner is going to be Ryan Gillespie, and some boys underneath him including Noah Jenkins, and Logan Bruni," Johnson said. "After that though, we have some rising stars. We've got two freshman boys, who will probably be running varsity in the top seven with Gabe Hogan and Brad Vandecar, which is a huge accomplishment as freshman."

As much as Johnson is excited about the upcoming season, he has been very pleased with the way both teams have worked hard during the summer months.

"We have been practicing informally since June and these guys have been running every week," said Johnson. "We are at like our 90th practice already and these kids have pounded out progressive miles all summer. We started off with 20 mile weeks, and then we hit 52 mile weeks, then we tapered back down, so these kids are in pretty impressive shape."

The teams will be competing in the OAA Red division, where they will face the likes of Rochester, Rochester Adams, Stoney Creek, and Lake Orion.

"The league meets are always tough but always going to be fun," Johnson said. "Another stand out meet is the Spartan Invite on Sept. 14. It's an honor to run in it but at the same time, since it has such high caliber field of athletes in it, it's a fast race, so kids have a high potential to place personal best times, so they're all looking forward to that."

The teams' first meet will be the Rochester Adams Invite on Aug. 30.

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