By DENNY DYROFF
For 21st Century Media
The final track on Emilie Autumn's latest album "One Foot in Front of the Other' deals with taking things one step at a time, and that's a pretty good description of how West Chester Henderson's boys cross country team has approached the 2013 season.
The Warriors efficiently moved through their dual meet season without a loss and then easily repeated as Ches-Mont League champions. Then, they mounted successful title defenses at both the District 1 Class AAA Cross Country Championships in Bethlehem and the PIAA Class AAA Cross Country Championships in Hershey.
After that, the Henderson boys changed their jerseys to that of the Warrior Track Club (to avoid any problems with the PIAA) and kept running. Last weekend, the Warriors competed in the Nike Cross Country Northeast Regionals at Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, N.Y.
The Henderson boys ran well in the meet in New York. They posted a score of 114 points and placed second behind Brothers XC at with 85. Brothers XC is, in reality, the team from Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, N.J. — the top-ranked team in the country.
Both teams advanced to this Saturday's Nike Cross Country Nationals at the Portland Meadows course in Portland, Ore. On Wednesday, Henderson coach Kevin Kelly and his boys flew to Oregon to get ready for the elite meet.
Most area teams look to peak at the District 1 meet. For Henderson's runners, it was just another step in a long journey — and nowhere near a giant step.
"We ran well at districts,' said Kelly, during a phone interview Thursday from Portland. "We just wanted to get the job done and then do well at states. We did OK at states but we could have run as little faster. We've adjusted our training schedule over the years. Hopefully, we timed it right.'
The Warriors took a big step at states and repeated as state champions. They took a giant step at the Nike Regionals when they placed second and punched their ticket to Nationals.
Tony Russell won the regional meet with a time of 15 minutes, 46 seconds. Reiny Barchet placed 20th with a clocking of 16:16 and Alex Knapp was 26th at 16:23.
The Warriors' other finishers were Seamus Collins, who was 41st at 16:41; Eric Stratman, who finished 48th at 16:49; Ricky Waltz, who was 52nd at 16:55 and Kevin Moy, who was 64th at 17:01.
"Five of the seven guys competed at the national meet last year,' said Kelly. "The only ones who didn't go last year are Ricky Waltz and Kevin Moy. It's so much better this year. Nike flew us out on Wednesday. Last year, they flew us out on Thursday and we didn't get to bed until really late.
"Our state of mind is a lot better this year. Last year, we were a little star-struck seeing all the Olympians running around. This year, our guys are a little more focused — and a little more relaxed.'
The 2013 Nike National Meet features 22 teams that qualified at eight regional meets — Heartland, Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, South, Northeast, New York and Southeast. There are also 40 individual qualifiers.
The list of qualifying teams includes Fayetteville-Manlius (New York), Arcadia (California), Gig Harbor (Washington), Brentwood (Tennessee), Christian Brothers (New Jersey), Northport (New York), Liverpool (New York), St. Xavier (Ohio), Carmel (Indiana), Madera South (California), American Fork (Utah), Severna Park (Maryland), Southlake Carroll (Texas), North Central (Washington), Dana Hills (California), Wayzata Arcadia (Minnesota), Central Catholic (Oregon), Edina (Minnesota), Davis (Utah), Hinsdale Central (Illinois), Lewisville Hebron (Texas) and, of course, West Chester Henderson. A team from Unionville High School qualified for the girls Cross Country Nationals, also being held on Saturday.
Christian Brothers is the consensus pre-meet favorite. The CBA Colts won the meet last year and have the horses to repeat. Three other teams are expected to be serious challengers — the Stotans from Fayetteville-Manlius, the Tides from Gig Harbor and the Apaches from Arcadia. Henderson is positioned just outside the top 10.
"They say that this is the deepest year ever,' said Kelly. "There are 15 teams that could be in the top three. We think we can get in there and mix it up. We ran pretty well at regionals — not great but good. We did what we had to do to qualify.
"CBA beat us by 77 points at the Manhattan Invitational and by only 29 at regionals. And they're the No. 1 ranked team in the country. This is the only true national championships. All the good teams are here. It's nice to see the Unionville girls' team here too. It's such an elite meet.'
The 2013 Nike Cross Nationals will be broadcast live on the official NXN Facebook app — RunNXN — on Dec. 7. The broadcast will begin at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time.
"The Henderson and Unionville parents are having a party at Kildare's in West Chester to watch a livestream of the meet,' said Kelly. "That should be a lot of fun.'
The Warriors have been putting one foot in front of the other all season. Now, the summit is within sight and they are ready to take the final step.