Leading the way
Team competition spurring McNamara’s success
Tanner McNamara has led the De Soto boys cross country team to this point in the season, but watch one of the team's practices and one might wonder who's pushing who.
McNamara -- the only Cat to earn a medal in last year's boys Class 4A state cross country meet -- tries, pushes and sweats like a champion.
All that effort is consistently good for fourth or fifth on the dusty trails surrounding De Soto.
Meet days aren't most days, however, and after three years of ups and downs, maybe that's what has set McNamara apart from his peers and the Wildcat team apart from its competition.
"In his mind it's not 'I hope to get 30th place today,'" De Soto cross country coach Chris McAfee said. "He goes into races and thinks 'I'm going to run the best I can, and I'm going to place very high in the race.'"
There have been plenty of reasons for McNamara to doubt himself over the last several years, but the De Soto senior said only one time did he ever seriously harbor dropping out of cross country or track.
He was continually frustrated with his performances late in his sophomore track season, and he said he began to ponder dropping the sport all together.
That was it. That was the only time he said he really considered quitting, and it was because he wasn't running fast enough.
McNamara missed a major chuck of the cross country season last fall after he contracted a nasty case of whooping cough. Slated as one of De Soto's top runners before the season, he could barely even train with the team through September.
It was a leg injury that kept him off the track the next spring, and even this fall McNamara at times has opted for a different workout than his teammates due to shin splints.
He said he's just overcoming those latest problems.
It's no secret that one has to be in excellent shape to finish near the top of a long distance race. McNamara said what is a secret though, is how little that actually matters.
Oh, he's been able to train through most of ailments that have slowed him. When he hasn't been able to run, he's biked and when the shin splits wouldn't allow him to work on a track, he jogged on the grass.
But it's been a long time since De Soto's top runner had months and months of steady, injury-free training under his belt.
So how does he do it? Just check out one of those inspirational t-shirts, he said.
"Training helps you get in shape, but training is more of a mental training than a physical training," he said.
McNamara may not have the cumulated training of some of the state's other top runners, but he's certainly not out of shape. McAfee said the make-shift workouts have allowed McNamara to become as strong as anyone on the team, and he's clearly in shape.
He has the long legs distance runners need, McAfee said, and while that is actually a hindrance during track season, it certainly helps on the five-kilometer courses of cross country season.
And he's tough.
"He's tough and his expectations are high," McAfee said. "He's not a guy that goes into a race questioning or doubting. He just worries about getting it done. A lot of the other guys and girls on our team could learn a lesson from that. He's just focused on what he has to do, getting out and getting it done."
But even McNamara insists that it's not as simple as confidence and a long bike ride. When asked what has helped him this year, he didn't hesitate for a second to point to the teammates that finish ahead of him every day in practice.
He has been the top Wildcat in two of De Soto's three races so far this season, and he credited the practice atmosphere and his teammates for that.
McAfee said the boys team members have never inspire the sort of hard work from every member that they are doing now, and that has benefited the entire team.
McNamara returned late last fall from the whooping cough and became the first regional champion in McAfee's tenure. He finished 17th at the state cross country meet one week later and managed it all while still dealing with the lingering symptoms of his whooping cough.
It was clear the rest of the Cats weren't intimidated during the first race of the season, though. Fellow senior Chris Dvorak streaked ahead of McNarama to be the first De Soto runner to cross the finish line, and while McNamara has claimed the two subsequent races, it's that pressure from the four or five teammates right behind him that keep his legs pumping, he said.
"It's been mostly luck," he said of how he's been able to stay ahead of his teammates. "Colin (Jokisch) was right with me and (Dvorak), the amount I was ahead of him, it could be totally different next week."
McNamara's 17th place medal didn't constitute much of a medal haul last season, but the boys team is fixated on bringing home significantly more hardware this October.
They'll do it too, McNamara said.
He said the seven varsity runners will line up and they'll tear across the hills of the Wamego Country Club together.
He said they'll do it by pushing one another.
"It's paying off," McNamara said. "It's been fun to get out there and hammer away at each other in competition.
"Back when we would ask the top teams in the state how they did it, they said it was the competition within their team, and I finally understand that. That makes all the difference."