Andrew Cook chuckles at the idea that Southern Denton County is somehow conducive to producing elite distance runners.
“I think it is more that our biggest competition is right across town,” Cook said. “It definitely drives you when you are working out before the season, and you will run into some of the Marcus runners, or you see them at a meet.
“I think that rivalry really helps make both programs better. When you know that you are going to see teams like Marcus and Argyle at these meets, it makes you work harder and makes you better as a program.”
The Flower Mound High School cross country coach, who has both the Jaguar boys and girls teams ranked in the top six in the state heading into the season, said Flower Mound’s expectations are reaching the point where the team expects to be among the state’s best every season.
“Our runners take a lot of pride in the program,” Cook said. “They know when they go out there that they are going to run a good race. We have a saying at our school, ‘We Are Flower Mound.’
“That may sound kind of cocky, but I tell the kids, you come from a school with great academics and a great athletic program. You should be proud of that and do your absolute best.”
In his fourth year at the helm for the Jaguars programs, Cook said he believes the tradition of excellence in the sport of cross country is something that takes a while to build.
“I think that once you get the ball rolling, that’s a big part of it,” Cook said. “Our runners start to see what past teams have done, and they start to believe that they can accomplish those things.
“Last year, Connor Adams won state. A lot of our guys were good friends with him, and they see that he works hard, and he’s committed and focused, and they start to believe that if he could do it, they can do it.”
Connor Ward leads the girls team this season at Flower Mound, and after a third place finish at district and eighth place finish at region in 2009, the Jaguars distance runner seems poised for a big 2010 season.
Ward said being part of the cross country program at Flower Mound is very special for her.
“It means a lot to run at Flower Mound,” Ward said. “You don’t really feel pressured to do well, but it definitely motivates you when you follow the strong teams we’ve had. I think the atmosphere at Flower Mound, and coach Cook especially, makes it comfortable and relaxed so that everyone feels like they are a part of something.”
Argyle High School has also established itself as a titan in the sport of cross country at the 3A level, and coach Kathi Olson said she is not completely sure why the Eagles teams have had the success they have.
“I really don’t know,” Olson said. “We just have great athletes and great runners. I think some of the individuals early on who did well for the school inspired some of the younger kids to raise their games.
“Now, we are just always really solid. We almost always have one that is in contention for a state title, and then six other really good runners.”
The Argyle boys have won the state title three consecutive seasons heading into 2010, and both Argyle squads are ranked in the top three heading into this season.
The Argyle boys and girls have won both district and region championships the past two seasons in a row.
Oddly enough, Olson’s road to becoming cross country coach at Argyle was not what the average fan might expect from a woman that has helped lead her team to multiple state championships.
“When I first came to Argyle seven years ago, I was going to coach volleyball,” Olson said. “I had never ran cross country or even been to a meet, but I would not trade it for the world. I would never go back to volleyball.
“I think it is so exciting, because it is an individual effort, but it is a team effort, too. The state meet is the coolest thing, because you have the best of the best, and the crowds move around like a sea of fish going to where the runners go. It is just one of the coolest things you will ever see.”
Darby Hargroves and Allea Harris will be among the team leaders for Argyle this season on the girls side, and Hargroves said what Argyle has accomplished in the sport of cross country is something she and her teammates respect and take seriously, saying with the help of Olson pushing the team to succeed, it is not difficult to find the motivation to dig deep every time out.
“I think it is very important to represent Argyle well,” Hargroves said. “We’ve been so far in so many sports, and I just think it is great to represent a program that has already been so successful in the past and keep that tradition going.”