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Johnnies in the smoke

NCAA Cross Country at Saint John's Invitational

The Johnnies started their season off with a victory at their first home meet of the year. | Evan Gruenes

Following a first place victory during its season opener, the St. John’s cross-country team acknowledged but did not dwell on its early success. Instead, the Johnnies chose to train in order to maintain their strategy and motto, “Johnnies in the smoke.”

The term reflects the squad’s aggressive, yet controlled strategy that is meant to promote season-long consistency in order to achieve larger team goals.

“There is no room for complacency,” said senior James McLean. “We have our eyes on something bigger.”

Having missed national tournament qualification by only one spot, McLean and his team members view last season as motivation towards succeeding this year.

He and fellow teammates expressed their belief that off-season workouts and roster depth will prevail in the long-run, hinting that this year’s squad is returning and stronger.

“We train smart,” sophomore Tommy Feichtinger said. “The controlled and aggressive strategy is what we do.”

The strategy that he refers to consists of the Johnnies running together in the middle of the pack, then making a strong push to pass their competitors as a team later on in the race.

This approach allows the Johnnies to have somewhat of a mental edge over their opponents.

“We spend the whole race knocking people off,” Feichtinger said. “It’s mentally easier to catch than be caught.”

Standing as an example of collective team effort and execution of strategy during this early season campaign, sophomore Jake Burr and senior John Subialka collaborated alongside Feichtinger to sustain the “Johnnies in the smoke” formation to the finish line.

When members were asked individually about their success, not one of the runners hinted at his own talents, but rather expressed faithfulness in what is believed to be a competitive roster of depth and commitment.

“I see great potential in our younger guys,” McLean said. “They are looking feisty.”

The Johnnies cross-country team is led by thirty-five year veteran coach Tim Miles, who has not changed his outlook on the season following the team’s victorious home meet on Sept. 7, where the Johnnies finished in first place out of five teams.

Instead, Miles maintains that early season success in the month of September, while a good thing, ultimately will not make or break a season.

“This is training mode,” Miles said. “Scoring throughout the season will take care of itself.”

By the start of the season, most teams have a pretty good idea of who their top seven runners are, and even what their top five will look like.

The Johnnies, in this case, believe that challenges and personal motivation will ultimately decide who their best runners are. Sharing a common belief that off-season training will ultimately decide who is most prepared, they have not shied away from recognizing each other’s commitment.

“There will be wiggle room for our top five (spots),” McLean said. “But even our top seven are not set in stone.”

As a team, the Johnnies are looking to prolong their early success into the rest of the season.

Their next step towards accomplishing this goal is the St. Olaf College Invitational at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21 in Northfield, Minn.

“We know what we are capable of,” junior Kyle Rossow said. “We just have to go and get it.”

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