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Cross-Country: Oakton's boys run with force, the past

When Oakton boys’ cross-country Coach Phil Tiller got to work last month, the morning after his team won the Concorde District championship, he had about 25 e-mails from former runners congratulating him on the victory. Last week, after Oakton won its fourth Northern Region championship in five years, he had even more.

Graduates from as far back as the 1970s are proud to see Tiller, who is in his ninth season, build on the winning tradition they started. Oakton is one of Virginia’s top programs this decade. When the Virginia High School League championships start on Saturday, the Cougars will take aim at their third state title in five years and try to become the first AAA school to win back-to-back championships since West Springfield won three straight from 1993 to ’95.

“I tell the kids you’re part of something real special, real big,” said Tiller, who pulls double duty as head coach of the girls’ team. “Other kids don’t have the sort of legacy you do.”

Neither do they have the pressure of keeping that sort of legacy alive. But Tiller says runners at Oakton aren’t weighed down by expectations. They're inspired by them.

“When you run with the past, you never run alone,” Tiller said, quoting something he attributed to Ethiopian long distance great Haile Gebrsellasie. “When you’ve got 3K to go and there’s no one there to help you, you’ve got all the current athletes and past ones with you. I think that motivates you.”

With a runner-up finish last month at the prestigious Manhattan Invitational and another district and region title in its collection, Oakton has been motivated all season. Just three runners are back from last year’s top seven—Andrew McCullen, Patrick Fulghum and Matt Woodhouse—but Oakton is regarded as one of the top two teams vying for tomorrow’s championship. Five-year-old Mountain View in Stafford is the other.

Earlier this week, Tiller took his team on a tour of Oakton’s trophy case. He said 38 of the trophies housed inside were won by either the cross-country program or the track and field program, which he also coaches. He hopes that kind of experience will help give his team the advantage over powerful upstart Mountain View.

“They don't think about second; they think about the win," Tiller said about his runners. "When they see how many miles that they've put 700 miles on their legs since August and coach is asking for three more, they say ‘I can do this.’”

By Carl Little  |  November 13, 2009; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  AAA Concorde District , Cross-country , Mountain View , Northern Region , Oakton , VHSL  
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