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Saugus pushes the pace

Cross country teams ratchet up the intensity in practice to continue Foothill League, state success

Posted: September 8, 2009 10:38 p.m.
Updated: September 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Members of the Saugus girls cross country team practice Tuesday at Saugus High. This season, the Centurions are increasing the intensity during practice.

 

Saugus’ cross country program has turned into a powerhouse.

The girls have won three consecutive CIF state titles and finished second at the Nike Cross Nationals the last two years.

The girls and boys teams have each won three straight Foothill League championships.

Given that success, one might think the Centurions are going through the same old routine in preparation for the 2009 season.

Hardly.

“In order to get better, we’ve made a conscious effort to run quicker,” said Saugus head coach Rene Paragas. “You can mess with the intensity or the distance. We chose the intensity.”

Saugus is pushing harder during practice runs, which vary from five to 10 miles a day.

The team is taking what it calls a “hard-easy” approach, which means the difficulty of the run will be harder one day, then easier the next.

“Easy” being a relative term, as the Centurions are still pushing themselves considerably.

But the runners don’t mind.

“I don’t really question coach,” said junior Kaylin Mahoney. “It works out in the end. I trust him.”

Mahoney is the defending CIF State Division II individual champion, and she will lead a girls team that returns four of its top five runners from the 2008 state meet.

The boys team, on the other hand, returns only two varsity runners and is one of the reasons for the increased intensity in practice.

Last season, the Saugus boys missed qualifying for the state meet by one place.

Paragas said the team peaked in the middle of the season and was a shell of itself by the time the postseason rolled around.

The disappointing finish helped Paragas decide to push the pace.

“We’re hoping to run faster later in the season,” Paragas said. “We might get beat early on in the season. Someone in league might beat us, but we’re doing it so it pays off at the end of the season.”

In the past, Paragas refrained from upping the intensity for one simple reason.

“We weren’t ready for it,” he said. “My philosophy was always to get the runners to the line healthy, but we needed something to get over the hump.”

It should pay off for the girls team, too, although the increased intensity has had its drawbacks.

Several varsity runners are struggling with different injuries and illnesses, but Paragas knew the risk when he picked up the pace.

“You can speed up the training effect,” he said. “There are big dividends, but there’s also great risk.”

That’s not all Paragas has had to deal with.

The program’s numbers increased to around 150 kids at the start of the season, a number that has since fallen to 126.

Still, Paragas’ attention has been pulled in several directions with all the new faces, and he hasn’t been able to spend as much time with Mahoney and the other varsity runners.

The Station Fire was a big problem as well, because Saugus wasn’t allowed to practice all last week because of the poor air quality.

“It’s been a struggle,” Paragas said.

Saugus will run in some new meets this fall, including a meet in Cerritos and a meet in Rochester, NY, the weekend of Oct. 3.

One of the original reasons for attending the meet in New York was to go against Fayetteville-Manlius High School, which has won the last three national championships.

Fayetteville-Manlius switched its schedule, however, and is no longer attending the meet.

That doesn’t bother the Centurions.

“We’re going to see what cross country is like on the east coast,” Paragas said.

If the faster pace in practice pays off, Saugus should be just fine.

 

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