It has been said that success breeds success.
If that is a truism, then one needs to look no further than the Greeley County Lady Jackrabbits’ cross country program for proof.
On Nov. 1, at Wamego Country Club, the Lady ‘Rabbits grabbed the Class 1A state team cross country title with a narrow 39-43 victory over Macksville.
It wasn’t just a first-time occasion for the Lady ‘Rabbits and coach Greg Cook.
In fact, while never taking anything for granted, it has become an annual pilgrammage for Cook’s squads.
This year’s gold-medal winning performance was the school’s seventh state team title during the past nine years. Throw in three additional boys’ titles, and Cook has now directed 10 state championship performances.
For his effort, Cook has been named The Telegram’s 2014 Cross Country Coach of the Year.
“With this year’s team, it seemed like we didn’t really have one standout,” Cook said in a recent interview. “We had a pack, and the pack continually improved all season.”
In fact, no Lady Jackrabbit runner finished in the top 15 individuals, with junior Kashli Holthaus finishing 18th to lead the way.
The key, however, as Cook hinted, was the “pack” running, where his first through fifth runners placed between 18th and 27th, and only 45 seconds separated the top runner from the No. 5 runner.
“The fourth and fifth runners (in Class 1A only the top four runners count toward team points) were very important again this year,” Cook said. My fourth runner really stepped up and came through. My fifth runner, a freshman, stepped up in the last half mile and passed a (Macksville) runner that we really needed.”
Cook said it was a rarity that a team could win the state title without a top 15 runner, but credited his team’s conditioning and work ethic during the season for heading to state with the right mindset.
“We make sure our kids come into the season with a good base (miles run during the summer),” Cook said. “We try to maintain that through the first meet or two, then we focus on what other schools we will be competing against. We try to get in position to have success, and I guess it’s worked pretty well for us.”
With a tradition that now spans nearly a decade — his first team title came in 2006 for the girls — Cook says it has made getting kids out for the team a little easier. At the same time, he credits his runners with being his best recruiters.
“I’m fortunate in that our upperclassmen take on the role of talking to the underclassmen about the tradition and the pride they have,” Cook said. “They pass it on to the younger kids, who then pass it on down the line. It’s been very helpful to my coaching.”
Cook said getting the young runners to compete at the middle school level has been critical to the program’s longevity of success.
“The main key is getting the kids out and started,” Cook said. “We’ve been fortunate to keep about 75 percent of the kids for at least one year of high school. That’s the key to continued success. The kids see success and they want to be part of it.”
The success, though, doesn’t come without a lot of hard work by the Jackrabbits’ runners.
“They know it takes work, time and effort, and they want to put that time in,” Cook said. “The kids are always asking me how many years have we done this or that. It’s nice to be able to relate to them, and for them to take a little pride in things and make sure we take care of business. That puts ourselves in position to be successful.”
While not looking too far into the future, Cook only smiled when reminded that of his five runners at the 2014 meet, four of them will return for 2015.
“We have a good core group for next year,” Cook said. “They know what it will take, and I don’t think they ever take it for granted.”
Accomplishments: Class 1A state girls team champions — 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014; Class 1A state boys team champions — 2009, 2010, 2012.