Oxford Cross Country team on a course for success
● By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Cross Country team’s season is off to a fast start—a very fast start.
At the Lebanon Valley College Dutchman Invitational earlier this month, the boys’ team placed three runners in the top ten on the way to a first-place finish out of 19 teams, while the girls’ team finished in fifth place out of 18 teams. A group of young runners are pacing Oxford to the success.
“As a team, we’ve done really well,” said Gavin Fitzgerald, a freshman member of the team who has stepped in and performed well. Fitzgerald explained that several of Oxford’s runners set new personal records during races early in the season. At the Lebanon Valley College Invitational, Fitzgerald ran a 16:49, and was one of the top-ten finishers.
Evan Campbell, a junior, posted a personal record of 16:44, good for a third-place finish at the Lebanon Valley College event. Campbell attributes the team’s success to good, old-fashioned hard work.
Duffy Sample, the cross country team’s coach for more than a decade, agreed. “They put a lot of time in during the summer,” he said. “They work really hard.”
Bruce Trimmer, a sophomore, is another key contributor to the team this season. He posted a time of 16:46, good for fifth place at the Lebanon Valley College Invitational. That time represents an improvement of over one minute on his personal record. Trimmer said that the runners on the team push each other to improve. The influx of young talent on the squad has resulted in higher expectations than in previous years.
“It’s a lot more serious,” Trimmer said. “We’re looking at states this year.”
On the girls’ side, senior Sarah Wilkinson is the unquestioned leader, providing a very important intangible to what is also a very young squad.
“When Sarah speaks, they listen,” Sample said. “She’s run here for four years. She’s a good runner and a great kid.”
Christina Jiminez, Liz Estes, and TaJ Lanier rank among the squad’s fastest runners this season. All are young and talented, with plenty of time to improve on their personal records as their careers at Oxford continue.
Jiminez has made great strides this season, Sample said.
“She put a lot of time in over the summer,” the coach explained. “She’s taken a minute off her time.”
Of Estes, a sophomore, Sample said that “she’s probably a number-two or a number-three runner already—she will get better and better.”
Lanier is a fourth runner on the Oxford squad, even though she’s only a freshman. Sample said that Lanier has the potential to develop into a top runner.
“She really doesn’t know how good she can be,” he said.
In more recent years, Oxford has had more girls qualify individually for states, but Sample said that some of the young runners on the boys’ side have a good shot at states.
“I haven’t had a boy go to states in 15 years,” Sample said.
Fitzgerald said that he and his teammates are aiming for qualifying in states as a team, which would be quite an accomplishment for such a young squad, especially since the league and the district are both stacked with so many top teams.
With 16 boys and 10 girls, the Oxford Cross Country team is still one of the smallest squads in the league. But it’s a young, hard-working, dedicated group. Because so many of the key contributors are freshmen, sophomores, or juniors, Sample is very optimistic about the team’s outlook in the near future.
“We’re going to be solid for a few years,” he said.
Sample said that assistant coach Mike Walling, who spends a lot of time working with the runners, deserves a lot of credit for the team members’ development. So, too, does Baldemar Lemus, a former Oxford cross country runner, who volunteers with the team.
As impressed as Sample is with their work as part of the cross country team, the coach is equally impressed that the team members also volunteered their time for community activities like helping to build the inclusive playground at Oxford Memorial Park and working with youngsters at the Lighthouse Youth Center.
“The biggest thing about these kids,” said Sample, “is that they are all good kids. They do a lot of community service, which is important to me. They’re going to be community leaders, whether it’s here in Oxford or wherever they end up living. That’s what we’re striving for.”