McDERMOTT — So Landen Smith, you wanna be a state champion do you?
In an interview at Northwest High School on Wednesday, with the 2020 cross country season starting Saturday, the returning all-Ohioan expressed out loud —and on the record — his goals for his senior campaign.
Frankly, they are indeed lofty —both for himself and his fellow Mohawk runners.
But who can blame him for wanting to stand on the highest point possible —and enjoy the company of his teammates.
“I see myself as nothing less than state champion. That’s all I want. Standing on top of that podium. And I want our whole team to be top-10, top-five. I want our whole team to be all-Ohio and standing on that podium this time. Not 14th again,” said Smith. “I want this season more than any other I’ve ever had. For both my teammates and myself. That’s why I’m pushing them so hard and myself so hard.”
If the goal of competing is to win the competition or the goal of running is to win the race, then Smith is taking that to heart —and running with it.
“I just don’t like failure,” he said, with a slight grin. “I was raised in a family where competition and working hard is everything. It’s all I’ve done my whole life.”
His lifetime race, to date, of course occurred at last season’s state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway.
Smith — out of 183 total runners in the Division II boys run — placed 11th with a personal-best time of 16 minutes and four seconds.
To emphasize that even further, only 10 individuals out of almost 200 finished ahead of Smith, as runners which finished among the top-20 were honored with all-Ohio accolades.
But, Smith said that clocking can be reduced down even further.
“I can run in the 15:30s or 15:20s even. As low as I can go,” he said.
At the state race, his one-mile mark was five minutes and one second, his two-mile time at 10:22, and thirdly his 4200 split being 13:42.
Smith surged up the scoreboard by going from 26th to 16th to 15th to finally crossing in 11th.
In fact, only a minute actually separated Smith from a state championship, as state champion Caleb Brown of Shelby won the race in 15:05.
Only 47 seconds separated second-place thru ninth, as Smith (16:04.8) trailed 10th-place Kevin Agnew (16:04.2) of Carroll by a mere sixth-tenths of a second.
Smith was awarded an all-Ohio medal and recognized on the awards podium — thanks to finishing among the top-20.
“I had worked from freshmen year running at regionals every year up until then. Then making it to state and running great at state was awesome,” he said. “It was an unreal experience to run there. I had all my family there, my coaches and teammates coming up and hugging me afterwards, all the cross country parents who are like family to me were all excited and pumped for me.”
Smith said that while on the awards podium, he stood directly behind Brown — who hailed from Shelby High School, which is the alma mater of Northwest head cross country coach Adam Schroeder.
“Standing right behind him, I was probably in every picture for every newspaper,” said Smith.
But this year, he plans to be the one up front —getting his photograph taken and his name mentioned in every media report.
Schroeder, who has coached Smith in cross country for five years now, knew he “had something special when Landen started running.”
“Even in middle school when I first coached him, you would watch him run a race and he was the kid that you would think he was hurting and was going to quit. But then, you look up and see him go and run faster and faster. It’s unbelievable having a kid with his talent to also have his work ethic to match,” said the coach. “Whatever I say needs to be done, he’ll do it. He wants to win, he wants to be the best and to have that talent and work ethic and mindset is pretty rare.”
Schroeder said that impact is felt by his teammates, who are aiming for a repeat ticket to the state as a squad.
“Landen just sets the tone. They know, no matter how he feels, he is going to take care of business. It’s all about being a team player. And the team sees that. They sacrifice for each other every day. Whether it’s a workout or a long run, they are pulling each other along,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to know they are all in this together, no matter what happens.”
Only this time, the state competition will take place at Fortress Obetz — just south of Columbus and north of Eldorado Scioto Downs.
As a team, the Mohawks — the six-year restarted program which are back-to-back regional qualifiers — managed a 14th-place performance, finishing among the top-two thirds of the 20-team field with a score of 329.
Northwest, one of two Southeast District Division II champions along with state runner-up Unioto (115), wound up with three runners among the top-85 — and four within the first 150.
It was the Mohawks’ first state appearance in cross country since the mid-1980s.
“To me, it was amazing to see their maturity. I told them their whole year that the goal was the end of the season. It’s tough to have kids run mad and get beat and realize that the early season doesn’t matter. To watch them start clicking all these great times and having that confidence at the end was just really important,” said Schroeder. “It was fun. For the first time, we enjoyed every moment and I’m glad that we did. We took advantage of it. Hopefully, this year, we can have some more of those moments, but we have to continue to work hard. The eyes are on the prize at the end of the year, but we have to continue to keep working.”
Only Eli Marshall, the Mohawks’ fourth regular scorer in 2019, graduated —as senior Gabe Morrell makes a return after suffering a broken pelvis in the rain-soaked regional race.
Northwest returns three runners which were under 17 minutes last season, and a total of five which were below 18.
They include senior Josh Shope, who was 46th in the state race with a time of 16:43, and junior Kailin Marshall, who ended up 85th in 17:06 — and actually only trailed Smith by a minute and two seconds.
The fifth regular returning runner is senior Ricky Gambill.
“Those top five coming back are great runners. They’ve made a lot of history here at Northwest, and hopefully we can make a little more,” said Schroeder. “We would love to make state again as a team and this time be top-10. If all goes great, we can be top-five.”
But Smith, himself, is going for the top one.
Schroeder said that this season Smith “is not holding back” — going all out for that state championship as several collegiate programs, including in Division I, have expressed serious interest.
“We’re doing the most miles we’ve ever done,” said Schroeder. “It’s time. A top-five finish would be a dream season. But if he wants to be the state champ, if he puts all the work in, he can do it. Anything can happen that day.”
The Mohawks open their season on Saturday at the Pickerington North Invitational — which is always the site of the regional meet.
Northwest’s own invitational, which features several Scioto County clubs, is set for next Saturday, Sept. 5.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved