There are two sources of light on a rainy, 50-degree Thursday evening at the Hart High School track: a shed at the edge of the track and a floodlight shining on the starting line of the track itself.
Inside the shed waits the Hart boys cross-country team.
“When it’s raining and cold, we all dread it,” said Indians runner Jason Lucero “I am not excited for the rain.”
But, when it comes time to take a few laps on the track, no one on the team complains. It’s part of the culture that the Indians have developed and used to reach the CIF-Southern Section cross-country finals for the first time since 2011.
“I don’t know if they’re fully aware of what’s happened,” said coach Darren James. “They’ve been successful because they’ve showed up every minute of every day and done the whole thing to get to where they are.”
Hart finished 16th overall in Division 2 at the CIF-SS prelims in Riverside to earn a trip to the finals. JJ Ahart was the Indians’ top runner, clocking 15:37.4 for 34th place overall and right behind him was teammate Jaden Wiley, who finished in 15:37.9.
Jason Lucero was next as the 120th runner to cross the finish line, recording a 16:12.9 time and behind him was Carson DeSpain in 127th at 16:16.3.
Part of Hart’s strategy is to run as a pack in competitions.
“It’s like a rally strategy,” Ahart said. “So when we’re near each other it gives us the strength to keep going and keep pushing. Because that’s how it is during workouts, so we might as well bring that into play during the race.”
Even though they run as a team, however, competition between individual runners helps to consistently improve times.
“It’s always fun running with (Ahart),” Wiley said. “I think a little bit of competitiveness on the team doesn’t hurt at all because in a race you push each other to go move up and move up so it’s nice having him as a benchmark.”
Although the Indians are striving for a strong finish at the CIF-SS Finals, they also have long-term goals in mind. There are no seniors on this season’s team, and all runners are planning on returning next year.
The team is confident that they can push for an appearance at the state level, and maybe even Nike Cross Nationals after that.
“One-hundred percent make it to state next year,” Ahart said.
But for now, Hart is tapering its training and getting mentally prepared for the finals, which will take place in Riverside this weekend.
Although James is coaching his team through the rain, he’s also giving specific workouts to make sure his everyone is fresh and healthy going into their first finals appearance in eight years
“A little anxious, but not nervous at all,” Ahart said. “The fact that we made it as far as we have already is pretty much enough for me to be satisfied with, but if we could get past finals and go to state then I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably jump around and roll on the ground.”