Editor's Note : The following is the fifth in a series highlighting

the Top 10 local and area sports stories of 2009 as chosen by the staff

of The Garden City Telegram. Today's story, No. 6, is about the Holcomb boys repeating as Class 3A state cross country champions.

By KEVIN THOMPSON

sports@gctelegram.com

When humility runs deep on a team, good things can happen.

Unselfish team unity - both on and off the course - helped the Holcomb Longhorns cross country team win their second straight 3A state title, making them an obvious selection for one of the top sports stories of the year.

This was their third title overall and 11th straight trip as a team to state. So success is not new to this program. And the back-to-back wins was no fluke, either. In fact, this is the only Holcomb team of any kind to accomplish this feat.

The Longhorns had 77 points to defeat Minneapolis, and it was their third, fourth and fifth runners that made the difference.

Senior Mike Wolf led the Longhorns' title chase with a fourth-place finish in 17:32.30 while JaCee Jarnagin was right behind in fifth at 17:34.82.

"Winning one was a dream come true. It was perfect. Winning two was indescribable," Wolf said.

Team depth defined this team, he explained. This team wasn't just a couple of good runners who scored near the top all the time; instead, they were a group that ran together, trained together, pushed each other to get better, and supported one another both on and off the course.

This group ran a lot in the pre-dawn hours. Getting motivated for that was easy, Wolf said.

"I kept telling the team that if we ran like we did last year, we could bring home another state championship," he said.

"It wasn't always fun getting up that early," senior Jarnagin said. "But the goal in your mind you realize you're getting up to work for something, something you've been working for for a long time, that's motivation to get up."

Team togetherness was also a key, Wolf said. "It's kind of a brotherhood. We don't just run together; we hang out together. If someone's struggling with homework, we help him with it."

Senior Mitchell Gaede agrees.

"There's a time in the race when your body is telling you to give up and your mind is telling you to give up," he said. "But you just think about your teammates and how they're your friends, so you keep running hard for your friends."

Jarnagin said his secret to his own success was to run more miles every year and train smarter. That was also the team approach, he said. And one team title wasn't enough. Just like hitting the winning shot in a game of horse, they felt they needed to "prove it."

"Being defending state champions, we felt that we had a target on our backs, so we continued to work hard because we knew we weren't just going to get (the title) handed to us," he said.

The team bond manifested itself in after-school study sessions, hanging together, and pre-race meals.

Brendon Thomas was just a sophomore on this senior-laden varsity, but that didn't faze him at all. He felt included as a teammate, and a couple helped him when he was just a freshman to study for his finals. He, too, called being on this team "a brotherhood."

As an example, at state this year, he didn't feel well during the race. After the seniors finished their race, they came back to cheer on the rest of the team.

"They were meeting me everywhere and encouraging me to run as hard as I could," he said. Without their leadership in that race, he said he might not have finished as strongly as he did.

The end of the season really was "scary" with health and nerves issues, Cox said. "They really did have to hang together as a team because it didn't go the way we planned."

But the guys all finished their races fast and strong, he said. Brett Robinson passed 16 people in the last 800 meters. Jarnagin passed nine the last two to three hundred meters.

"They all did that. For them to win, they all had to finish like that, and they did," Cox said. "What a group of guys. They have done it together all the way through. It's a true team concept of running."

Cox said their goal from the very beginning of the season, actually from the year before, was to make school history. Nobody had ever repeated.

"We tried not to talk about it too much because there's an incredible amount of pressure. But we didn't leave any room for anything else," he said.

"In the summer I didn't put a program together for them. They did it totally on their own. There would be anywhere from eight to 18 guys and girls running every night in Holcomb. They were motivated," Cox added.

"Our program is totally built around what our kids want to do. Happy kids run well. These guys were insanely dedicated," Cox concluded.