Ben Sullivan, putting in the miles at No. 7
PERHAM -- Much has been published about the extraordinary cross country season in Perham, but fanfare can sometimes revolve around the top.
Ben Sullivan proved this season that results matter all the way to the No. 7 position.
Only in his second XC season, Sullivan trained and practiced at a level good enough to make a lineup that was nearly impossible to crack.
Sullivan had the support of the entire team on his quest to join the best team in the state and the country, especially from those accustomed to front-page recognition, like Perham's leader Keeghan Hurley.
"He encouraged me a lot, especially over the summer," Sullivan said. "We all kind of pushed each other."
Sullivan ran track and junior varsity XC in 2011, but put in the miles it takes to prepare for races of 5,000 meters at the top of the varsity experience.
"Last year, I was just kind of getting into the hang of things. I didn't do too much training over the summer, not every single day, like I did over this summer. I was just kind of starting up and seeing how I enjoyed it."
Cross country runners are a different breed. It takes a particular personality and inner drive to go suffer the miles every day. Like the rest of his team, Sullivan found that niche to be more than suitable.
"I loved it."
Sullivan displaced a couple runners from the 2011 state runner-up team to grab the coveted No. 7 spot in the lineup. He made his mark early in the season at Wadena knocking over two minutes off his JV time of 20:03, finishing in 17:58.
Sullivan was seventh on the team, but ninth overall in the race.
That is the massive disparity in most races between the Yellowjackets and other teams that was seen this season.
At Wadena, Perham had finishes of: one, three, four, five, six, seven and number nine. If Sullivan represented any other school at Wadena, he's automatically the top or second runner, at worst, given this finish alone.
"You just have to go into every race thinking I can race anybody who is up there. I can't limit myself to only being the seventh person. I have to get out there and do the best I can."
Which is really what the mindset of the entre team was this season with slogans like: "We won't let the size of our school limit the size of our dreams," in attaining the pinnacle of national recognition.
Sullivan can safely hand over the seven spot to a number of deserving runners ready for the likes of seniors Brady Speicher, Nick Carignan and Dalton Dahms to graduate and open up the lineup.
What Ben learned in the seven spot will be a mental boost to jumping to a team leader position with Hurley, Jayden Cullen and Billy Beseman in the top four of next season's quest to repeat as state champs.
"I was just trusting my summer training and Morris' coaching throughout the season and believing if I want to go out there and compete with all the top runners I can do that."
The coaching of Jeff Morris, the National Coach of the Year in cross country, can make talking to Perham XC runners like a broken record.
All members stick to the pre-race sermon and are renowned, at least in my experience, with saying exactly the right things.
On a team where even the number seven guy can gloat, it is just an impossibility to witness it in person.
"We just have to know it's not given to us. We have to realize we've done all the work to prepare ourselves for this. We don't go into a race thinking we're going to win this, no matter what. We just have to have in our minds that we have the potential to get out there and do all that."
Sullivan and the rest of his team proved that this year. Conference championship, no brainer, Section title, walk in the park, State title, fifth best finish ever and then the national title.
"I was shaking and almost had tears in my eyes it was so intense," Sullivan said of the state meet.
"After it got going I just tried to compete with as many people as I could. I'm trying to look and see all the other Perham guys in front of me and see how close to them I can keep myself and try not to fall too far behind."
Next year's No. 7 runner will join in the revolving lineup of threats to a state championship with that same mindset and to attain the position can note some healthy advice from this year's No. 7 guy.
"I'm going to just have to keep the same attitude and work crazy this summer and even during swimming and track...put in some miles every week."