Henry Burton had the weight room at Pittsford Mendon all to himself about 7 o’clock Wednesday night.
Practice was over for the Mendon boys cross country team, but there was Burton with a big barbell on the back of his neck, as he bent his knees to squat weights. This was a workout to strengthen his legs, actually his second of the day.
About an hour earlier, Burton and his teammates ran up and down “Thornell Hill.”
“It’s the little things that make everyone different from one another,” Burton said. “Every team is doing the same training. Every team is putting in hills.
“Every team is putting in the miles, but it’s what you ask yourself — ‘What other thing am I going to do’ — that’s going to set you apart. And when you have your whole team doing that, the limits just aren’t set anywhere. And you can reach any height you want.’’
The Mendon boys have won the last two Class B state championships, the 2013 title with the late Jason DeJoy as coach. Last season’s champion with coach Chris Compson became the first from Section V to win states without an individual runner among the top 10 finishers. And another run is possible for the Vikings, who are ranked No. 1 among Class B schools in the state by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
Griffin Hess, a senior, classmate Isaac Goodman, Burton, also a senior, and sophomore Nathan Lawler — Mendon’s fastest runners at the 2014 state meet — are once again among the Vikings’ top seven runners.
“A lot of it is attributed to the culture of the program,” Compson said. “My predecessor, Jason DeJoy, established a great culture of commitment and really focusing on the process, rather than the products, knowing that if we’re doing everything right and we’re putting everything in, the end result will follow.”
Compson describes the approach as never getting too hung up on the results. Competition among the runners, and according to Burton and Hess there is plenty, sorts out which Vikings move into the top seven. One reason those spots are tough to occupy is a fruitful modified program, now run by Mike Wahl, who followed the retired Anna Gorbold.
The Mendon girls varsity, also coached by Compson, is a three-time defending Section V champion and ranked No. 13 in the state, while Honeoye Falls-Lima is at No. 6. Compson said the support in the Pittsford community is “phenomenal.”
“The community is an active community, they understand running,” he said. “They support it. We’re not a ‘fringe’ sport in this community. It’s not uncommon at all to see our athletic director at cross country meets and to see other sports teams cheering us on. I think it breeds a sense of commitment to the program, not just from the athletes, but from everyone around them.”
Hess sensed a change among a few of the teammates he lines up shoulder-to-shoulder with.
“I think there are guys who realize they are varsity runners and that we have a shot at being a really fantastic team,” Hess said. “We saw them every day at Mendon Ponds this summer, when we had our unofficial captain practices. We hadn’t seen that before.”
The Vikings will see what they have for a lineup during the next three weekends, beginning with the Victor Invitational on Saturday and the Manhattan College High School Cross Country Invitational Oct. 10.
In between is the McQuaid Invitational, in which Mendon is a regular, and probably will remain one. Organizer of one of the largest meets in the country, McQuaid named the seeded race for medium-sized schools the Jason DeJoy Memorial.
DeJoy died unexpectedly in January 2014 at the age of 40. The married father of three daughters taught social studies at the Barker Road Middle School in Pittsford.
“His last year with us was his (and the team’s) first state title,” Burton said. “It really excited us that we could repeat the year after that. I’m going to admit that it was tough, but we pulled it out and that was a great confidence-booster for us after a tough loss.
“I feel like the main thing is that our team has a ton of brotherhood. We were able to bond together in tough situations. We have such a strong bond that to me, it seems like we’re impenetrable and that we can beat on, no matter what.”
Talking yourself into walking into a weight room on tired legs is one of those “little things” Burton referred to.
“Really, no one is on the JV here,” Burton said. “You are training, you are running and are expected to act like a varsity runner. If you are in our top 50, you are in our top seven.”