NORMAN — Norman High coach Scott Monnard grew up around Norman athletics and has spent his career building the NHS cross country program into a perennial contender. So it was maybe more clear to him than anyone else exactly what it meant when Norman North’s Ben Barrett crossed the finish line 10 seconds ahead of anyone else at Saturday’s Class 6A state meet.
“The city of Norman has established itself as the distance running Mecca,” he said after watching North and NHS finish 1-2 in the girls’ meet and third and fourth on the boys’ side. “Growing up in Norman and being a former athlete myself, Norman has always been a soccer community. But the support for cross country has been great. For us to finish 1-2, that’s like playing in the state championship. I couldn’t be more proud of our schools and our kids.”
It was a common sentiment among both Tigers and Timberwolves, all of whom have been competing for championships in the last several years. The NHS boys won two years ago and the North girls claimed their first title this year. Meanwhile, Barrett — a junior who only seriously began running two years ago — easily eclipsed the rest of the runners on his way to a finishing time of 15:30.76, 10 seconds ahead of his next closest competitor.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. “This moment here, this is why you run.”
More and more kids in Norman have begun to chase that moment, and that renaissance has brought the kind of consistent excellence to Norman’s cross country programs. The NHS girls put up their best finish since 2000 in their 15th straight trip to the state meet, while the boys qualified for the ninth straight year even and put up their fifth top-five appearance in as many years, something no other school has done in that time span. The Timberwolves put together their best performance a season ago by finishing third and improved on that by walking away with the title this season.
The higher participation numbers do more than just build interest in the sport; they build depth that was key to both schools’ success on Saturday. The NHS boys’ fourth place finish came even after losing captain Andrew Meiller last month, while the T-Wolves rallied after senior Elise Base went out for the season. That depth was apparent even at the state meet, when North’s Madeline Brown turned in her best race of the season to place in the top five for North and secure the Timberwolves’ victory.
“There must be something in the water in Norman,” T-Wolves coach Mike Ramsey joked after the race. “But really, I have great support and assistant coaches. And I have a great group of kids who always want to do more than just the minimum they have to do. This is the first time I’ve ever had a group like that.”
There’s plenty of reasons why the excellence should continue, and several of those were apparent on Saturday: NHS’s junior high team was in attendance
“We brought them here just so they can take it all in and see what it’s about,” Monnard said. “Ten years ago freshmen would come to school and have never heard about cross country. Now they come in wanting to run.”
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