Catoctin Cross Country has made huge strides in just a short time.
Since taking over just a season ago, head coach David Lillard has put together an impressive turnaround for a program that had been struggling to get runners on the field.
“Two years ago, we had just three runners,” Lillard said. “Now we have 12, and this team went from not being able to compete at states just two years ago to getting second place this year.”
Coach Lillard had a lot of help from senior star runner, Alex Contreras, who took on the role of captain this season. Contreras plays a huge part in getting the team prepared throughout practices, and his dedication has elevated his runs and his team to a new level this season.
“Being captain is a lot of responsibility, but I do have fun with it,” Contreras said. “The guys are really good, so it’s not like I have to whip anyone into shape. They’re all out here to get better. It’s a fun job, and it’s been pretty great.”
Contreras’ efforts since joining the team have made a huge impact, and the rewards have paid off in a big way. Contreras placed first at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 1A State Championships on November 12, etching his name in the record books among Maryland championship runners.
“Getting first at states was something I’ve really been working toward since my freshman year of high school,” Contreras said. “I started in middle school, but I wasn’t very serious about it until my freshman year.”
The team took second overall, and each runner on the team gets to share the glory for how far Catocin’s cross country program has come.
“They’ve done the one thing I wanted them to do when I came here which was to make it their team,” Lillard said. “They take over the team, they control the team and do what they need to do to be a state contender, and they grabbed that with both hands and just went with it.”
Coach Lillard often finds that the players give themselves all the discipline and feedback they need to keep improving.
“They’re harder on themselves than I am on them,” he said. “I have to tell them it’s OK to be a second or two off in their training. Not every workout is going to be great, but their work ethic is top notch, and sometimes I’ve got to walk them off the ledge and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK not to be great today.’”
That attitude and accountability to get better each day has ignited this team, and the results speak for themselves. Fortunately for the Cougars, they have a leader with experience to lean on when things get tough.
“Alex is the captain, so he takes on a lot of that [leadership],” Lillard said. “A lot of times, the kids will go to Alex with issues, and with him being a senior, he’s gone through a lot of the things our younger runners have gone through.”
The benefits of having a talented leader and a coach who understands what each individual needs are immeasurable. There are a lot of good things to come for the Cougars, and a stand-out cross country season is only the beginning.
Coach David Lillard (far left) is shown with Catoctin’s Cross Country runners at the state competition in November. The team took second place overall. Team Captain Alex Contreras (center) earned a first-place finalist award.
CHS Sports Boosters Courtesy Photo