PHIL HAWKINS - From left, North Marion cross country members Aiden Leder, Jarrett Adair, Cole McArthur, Alex Ellington and Jesse Agnew give the Huskies a young and dedicated core to lead the team in head coach Kevin Buse's inaugural year at the helm.
It takes time, endurance and commitment to finish a cross country race, so it’s no surprise that North Marion first year head coach Kevin Buse approaches the 2016 fall season focused on the long game.
The cross country season is really just one half of the puzzle when it comes to high school distance running, with the other half coming during the spring season on the track. In Buse’s mind, you can’t have one without the other, and he’s excited to bring his 17 years of coaching experience to North Marion’s athletic programs this year.
“Once you get me on the track and I start controlling everything and kids start having success, this is exactly what I tell them, ‘Do you want to be a state champion in track? You gotta go out for cross country,’” Buse said.
Buse and the Huskies are essentially starting from scratch this season. North Marion’s top returning runners were all freshmen last year, and the Huskies finished the district championship in last place in 2015.
“If you look at last year’s districts and look at the end of the standings, the last four places are North Marion, North Marion, North Marion, North Marion,” Buse said.
But Buse sees a lot of promise in the program, and the great thing about finishing last is that there’s nowhere to go from here but up.
“I do believe they will be significantly better. They won’t be last at districts,” Buse said. “I think collectively I want to get significantly better than last year. We want to move up. We want to be in the top three. That’s our goal, team-wise.”
Of the team’s returning athletes, Buse sees sophomore Jesse Agnew as a natural leader who can help keep the team focused and build chemistry among the Husky brotherhood.
“Of all the kids on the team, he’s the one that’s probably the most mentally tough,” Buse said. “He keeps them all in line and gets them going.”
Agnew led the team at the season-opening Night Meet at Wilsonville High School on Friday, finishing the sophomore 3K in 12:19.70, an improvement of nearly 40 seconds over last year’s time. He was followed by sophomore teammates Cole McArthur (13:26.50) and Jarrett Adair (13:29.90) and freshman Aiden Leder (15:05.50).
Buse is counting on the team to grow as the season continues, with senior Bethany Dron and sophomore Alex Ellington expected to add to the ranks after running with the team last season.
While cross country is an individual sport by nature, he wants this group to be a core that works together and looks out for each other, developing chemistry off the course and helping each other on race day.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun here, and we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it, but we’re going to be really humble and professional and be good sports,” Buse said. “They all communicate. They do all the little things and that’s what it’s going to take for the program to get off to a good start.”
Buse knows it will take time to attract athletes to the program. Distance running is inherently difficult, particularly for people new to the sport, but he wants his team to act as ambassadors to the school and bring a level of enthusiasm and positivity to the program that will bring others out to work out, have fun and get in shape.
“I don’t ever say anything negative. There’s no need for it in our program because it’s such a hard sport to do,” Buse said. “I’m excited about it. When they start realizing they have some talent, and recover from the workouts, you start seeing them grow.”
With time, Buse expects the program will be able to sell itself based on the improvements and success of the core athletes who are running this year. And when spring track season comes around, and kids are looking for a way to qualify for the state championship meet in Eugene, Buse will be there to point them toward the cross country team.
“Our program will get to the point where people will be coming after us,” Buse said. “We’re going to be successful, we’re going to be competitive, and we’re going to leave everything out there on the course or the track.”
The Huskies will compete next at the Nike Bill Chapman Invitational on Thursday, hosted by Hillsboro High School at Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro.