Howland senior Trisha McGuire saw firsthand the transformation of the Tigers' distance program.
In the years prior, there wasn't that mentality where you saw distance runners give an all-out effort for four or eight laps around a track.
That's all changed for Howland.
Howland's Trisha McGuire talks about distance running
Enter freshmen Morgan Buckley, who was this season's Trumbull County cross country champion, and Taylor Craigo, who has the school record in the mile. They lead a plethora of underclassmen who have reshaped the way the Tigers approach distance running in the spring.
"They're really encouraging compared to previously," McGuire said. "Running well wasn't the main priority. It used to be getting it done was more important. Now, it's more of doing well and them being there pushing me. You can't do it all on your own. It's more of a team sport. Having a team makes it a lot better."
Howland distance coach Don James, who is in his third season, has also reshaped the mindset of the Tigers.
Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo
Howland’s Trisha McGuire runs during Tuesday’s 1,600-meter run at a dual meet with Austintown Fitch at Howland Middle School.
"We've come a long way in the last couple of years," James said. "We've got a lot good young athletes that have bought into the program. I'm really happy and pleased with the success we've had."
James, who ran at Champion High School and ran with former Maplewood standout Ted Rupe at Cleveland State University, knows what it takes to be a successful runner. James received All-America honors as part of the CSU cross country team in the late 1970s.
"I can relate to the kids because they know I've been there and I've done that," James said. "They know I know what it takes to compete at the college, Division I level to be successful. It's a matter of me tailoring the workouts back to a high school level, being sensitive to them, figuring out where they're at and where they are workout-wise."
The Howland distance runners average 4 to 5 miles a day.
"He's helped revamp the program," Howland senior Nate Sutton said of James. "Our coaches contribute to that mindset. Plus, the team success, everybody consistently performs better than they did the previous week, the previous race. A lot of that success contributes to that mentality.
"We all have that distance runner mentality that carries over from cross country in the fall."
Sutton came close to qualifying for the Division I state cross country meet this past fall, but hopes to get down to the state meet in Columbus.
He's run 9 minutes, 44 seconds in the two-mile run, but hopes to cut at least 10 seconds off that time in about a month - just in time for regionals at Austintown Fitch, which incidentally was at Howland Middle School Tuesday for a dual meet.
However, like the girls team, the boys team has solid underclassmen.
"We have our team where we want to be right now to hopefully win county and win the Lakeview Invitational this Saturday," Sutton said. "We've got plenty of good underclassmen coming up and hopefully continue that legacy."
It's a legacy that is carried on by both teams.
"Our girls are more focused than in previous years," McGuire said of the girls team. "We want to do good. We want to try hard at practice. We want to do good at our meets. It's a big difference from the girls that are there to run to get it over with."