Team Runs On Hard Work Bonners Ferry Cross Country Squad Competes With Single-Minded Objective
Combine commitment, hard work and loyalty from a group of runners with knowledge, education and experience from a coach and you get a cross country team that has a good shot at a state championship.
The Bonners Ferry boys team, which took last year’s A-2 District I-II title under coach Harry O’Dell, has dominated meets in North Idaho this fall.
The Badgers have been first in every meet except one in their drive toward the state meet Nov. 1 in Buhl.
“They’re working at a real high level and it’s almost scary to see the intensity they’re at,” said O’Dell, who has spent the last eight of his 30 years coaching at Bonners Ferry. “Right now, they are starting to believe. They’ve got a dream in the back of their heads and they’re keeping it back there.”
The Badgers had their biggest win at the prestigious Farragut Invitational on Sept. 27. The meet included some of the top teams in the Inland Northwest and southern Idaho.
“(Farragut) was important for the fact of the confidence it gave my boys,” O’Dell said. “When you don’t run in a lot of big meets, and you only know the people that you normally compete against, you just don’t know how good you are compared to the guys down south.”
But Farragut proved BF rates with the best of them. And that didn’t just happen overnight.
O’Dell starts his team on a strict training program from the first day of the season until the end.
“It’s really hard training,” said Winter Braden, a senior who joined O’Dell’s team four years ago to get in shape for wrestling. “You have to have extensive training if you want to be any good. One of the reasons we’re doing so well is because the coach has a specific training program. And we follow it.”
During the first week of the season, O’Dell develops a foundation for his program with running to strengthen the lungs, heartbeat and respiration of his team. Later he directs the kids to hills for muscle strengthening. Before it is all over, the runners learn surging and turning skills, meditations, interval speed work and even ballet exercises for flexibility.
Said O’Dell: “The better you are, any flaw you have does more damage to you. You get on a knife-edge with these really top runners. And you really need to read what’s going on with every little ache or pain.
“When I started this game, the guy that taught me how to coach said ‘Don’t you ever go out there and train with those kids. Your job is a watcher. You’ve got to see what they’re doing, not what you’re doing. And you’ve got to know what you’re watching.’ And that’s what I’ve spent my life doing.”
A big part of the Badgers’ success stems from Braden and juniors Josh Sherven and Jarred Ekstrom, who have trained together since the seventh grade. Usually, spectators can watch the three cross the finish line on one another’s heels.
“These boys run as a pack,” O’Dell explained. “Sherven’s the pace man so he breaks away. But those other two guys have vowed that they will never be out of sight from him and they sure have held on to it. There’s a great chemistry to this group of guys.”
During the summer, the three runners attended a four-day cross country camp at Flathead Lake in Montana that helped shape them mentally.
“After camp, from that point on, we got totally dedicated, realizing what we could do this year and setting some fairly high goals,” said Sherven, who just missed earning a top-20 medal at state last year by one place. “(The camp) helped me get my head focused and get me motivated. I also wanted to come into this season in as good a shape as I could.”
Senior Delray Romero, junior Aaron Leach, sophomore Nate Nelson and freshman Danny Hilden make up the rest of the varsity seven, who, according to O’Dell, are a pack of their own.
The Badgers took third place behind Gonzaga Prep and Lake City last Saturday at the Bullpup Invitational in Spokane.
“We needed to get beat,” said O’Dell, who chalked up the loss as a learning experience. “Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to see where you can press into your limits so it helps you when you go back to make your plan for state.”
Despite the loss, the Badgers are even more positive than before and plan to finish the season with everything they have.
“I don’t know if we’ll be the state champs,” said Sherven. “But they’ll sure have to beat us.”
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