The most important goal of Kevin Smith regarding his Oak Park cross country team is "that every day, kids leave here with smiles on their faces."
But that doesn’t preclude the coach and his troops from setting high expectations.
Competitively the goals are to make it to the state championships, Smith said, where the Eagles finished fourth last year, and then to be one of the top four teams in CIF (California Interscholastic Federation). In 1999, Oak Park’s boys came in second.
After that, goals include winning the Tri-Valley League title, and developing four quality teams: a boys’ varsity and JV team, and a girls’ varsity and JV.
All of that is secondary to the primary goal, however, of having as many happy runners as possible.
"That’s really reflective of the type of program we’re offering the students here at Oak Park and the range of opportunities," Smith said.
Still, despite the sheer number of athletes, there are those few who are expected to lead the Eagles.
Heading the list are Mark Nevers, who’s been All State for the two years, Ben Saxey, (both seniors) and Chase Ferrell, who was All State last year, and is considered one of the top 10 prep juniors in California this fall.
"Last year our team started to get really good," Nevers said. "And I think we have an even better team coming back this year. We’ve been working hard throughout the whole summer and it’s our goal to win CIF and win state. I think we have a good chance.
"We have to stay focused the whole year."
Taylor Hermes, a junior, and Igor Tregub, a native of Russia, will be keys to the Eagles’ success. And several freshmen have made an impact, a core that includes Todd Bettisworth, Kyle Martindale, Sean McCann and Daren Stockard.
Also helping the boys’ team will be Chase Baron, a junior; Scott Bartlett, a sophomore; Evan Jordan, a junior; Jason Lindgren, a sophomore; and Daniel Reinking, Matthew Rice and Elijah Esquibel, all seniors.
The girls’ team icludes Kimberly Bryan, a senior; Genevieve Chambliss, a sophomore; Callie Connor, a sophomore; Kerstin Edwards, a junior; Lauren Finkelstein, a senior; Lauren Morales, a freshman; Melinda Rodriquez, a sophomore; Hailey Swartz, a freshman; and Kelly Yahr, a freshman.
The veteran Saxey said individual accomplishments aren’t foremost in his mind this season.
"The team that beat us last year, we beat them all year," Saxey said, in reference to Oak Park’s second place finish in CIF’s behind Nordhoff.
"We should be able to beat them this year.
"Personally, I haven’t thought of a (finish) time," Saxey said regarding how fast he hopes to run this year.
"You need five runners to do anything and I just want to help the team do well."