Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Rational thought would indicate there are easier North Medford school records to attain than the best time in boys cross country.
The young man who owned it, Drew Jordan, captured two state championships in cross country and two others in track and field. Upon graduation in 2010, he left for Washington State, where he's enjoyed a successful NCAA Division I career.
Ray Schireman doesn't have any state titles and hasn't won a cross country race since the start of last season, but he now owns said school standard.
The senior, whom coach Piet Voskes says "has as much ability as any kid who has come through here," broke Jordan's record while competing at the Stanford Invitational 11/2 weeks ago. His time of 15 minutes, 44 seconds, was two seconds faster than Jordan's best, achieved in 2009, and ranks as the fourth best in the state this season among 6A runners.
And it surprised neither Schireman nor his coach.
"I kind of anticipated I would get it," says Schireman, who has been an integral part of the Black Tornado program since his freshman year, "but not this early. Now that it is this early, I want more. I probably would have been happy at the end of the season with this, but that's not going to work anymore."
Schireman won twice as a sophomore before placing 19th at the state championships. That season, he broke 16 minutes at the Stanford race, hitting 15:58, and appeared destined for big things.
But as a junior, he won the first race of the season, yet didn't approach his best times of the year before.
He had outside issues to deal with, he says, and within the framework of the team, he fulfilled his role of running with teammates in a pack, alternating lead duties with senior Blake Spencer.
Schireman's best time was 16:15, which he ran in the first month. He would end the year by placing seventh at state.
"The goal was to have those guys running together as a pack as much as possible," says Voskes, "not that he sabotaged his own performance in any way. He was a great teammate and ran with the group. The goal was to get the team as high as we could at state."
Mission accomplished. North Medford, with Schireman setting the pace, placed third, its best showing in school history.
Schireman admits he wrestled with his commitment to the sport. He didn't manage his sleep and diet habits well, and there were races when he thought, "I don't even want to be here," he says.
When track season came, he finished strong, placing second in the 3,000 meters at the district meet and setting a personal best (8:47.87) while placing seventh at state.
Soon after, he was at a crossroads.
As much as he wanted to set himself up for a strong senior year, he wanted to find himself.
"I wanted to make sure I like it," he says. "Not only running, but racing."
A reliable indicator that he is enjoying himself is this: "No. 1," he says of this fall, "it's gone by fast."
Schireman started training for cross country in late June. He was up to speed by mid-July. In mid-August, he had his biggest mileage week, doing 76 miles of road and trail running in six days, two sessions per day.
His work ethic through the summer was unsurpassed, says Voskes.
"He was basically an animal out there on the roads and trails," says the coach, who described Schireman's gait as "very smooth, efficient ... he's a pretty runner. He has a gracefulness to him that has paid off now that he has muscle memory and miles under him."
In addition, Schireman improved his sleep and eating routines.
"The catalyst this season," says Voskes, "is he's an extremely disciplined young man. Everything he does is performance-based."
Another difference is, as the team's clear No. 1, there are no restraints, no requests to hang back and bunch.
"He's got the green light to go from the gate," says Voskes. "There's no micro management on our part at all."
Schireman has competed in three events. He was in the high 15:50s his other two races and placed second and third.
At Stanford, he was in an elite field and placed 16th.
"It's odd when you finish 16th and break the school record," says Schireman.
Three of the top 15 prep runners in the nation were in the race, says Voskes. Schireman hung with the front pack for the first mile and was within 12 seconds of the leader through two miles. In the final 1,000 meters, he zeroed in on finishing strong.
"He's become very good at focusing midway through the race," says Voskes. "Where in years past, he might have fallen off the pace, he's very good at maintaining his composure and handling the discomfort."
Schireman doesn't fret over not having won since last year's first race. He'd trade the smaller races he has captured for district and state titles. He didn't compete Saturday in the State of Jefferson meet in Ashland, using the day instead for intense training, doing 10 to 12 miles on Mount Ashland.
It was supposed to be a hard day. He wasn't supposed to necessarily enjoy it.
"I have to think, what do I want more," says Schireman. "Can I be patient enough and focused enough on district and state and have it all come together for them?"
He'll race in a 68-team meet in Gervais this weekend, then take aim at the Southwest Conference meet, followed by state.
The SWC has four of the top eight runners in the state.
At state, says Schireman, the winner will be "whoever doesn't give up first, who can hammer that last 1,000 (meters) and who wants it more. That's a scary thought when you think about it. You put in all the work to run, and in workouts, everything is timed. So it's kind of a different concept. That's what I like most about the state meet. Just because you have the fastest time doesn't mean you're gonna win it. That's pretty much what cross country is about."
And it's something he discovered he likes a great deal.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com