Most likely, none of the members of the Osbourn Park boys' cross-country team will make the all-state team, and that's the way they like it. With no superstars but a remarkably tight pack of runners, the Yellow Jackets have given an eye-opening performance this fall, standing up to the area's best teams in several meets.
"This is really what I've wanted in my career, to have team success," senior Mitch Lopacki said. "We're having a lot of fun. On any day, one of the top five can be our first runner, and that's really encouraging."
As the postseason nears -- the Cedar Run District meet is Oct. 27 and the state meet is less than a month away -- Osbourn Park has shown that it could be one of the state's sleeper teams. The top five of Lopacki, junior John Draper, sophomores Tyler Simmons and Joey Renton and freshman Richard Arena have proven to be a formidable group.
At the William & Mary Invitational in Williamsburg this month, the Yellow Jackets had no runners in the top 10, but their top five runners finished within 20 seconds of each other, an impressive split. Osbourn Park finished with 117 points for second place, two points behind Georgetown Prep, which had three of the top seven finishers.
Last week at the Disney Classic in Orlando, Osbourn Park was without Lopacki, who was taking the SAT, but managed another strong outing to earn second place.
"It's all about the team," said Coach Mike Schuster, who is in his fifth season. "The guys are just thinking about what they can do for each other, and so far we've had great results."
Schuster said he is hoping his team can continue to run in the style of some of the area's best programs, such as Jefferson. The Colonials, a perennial state contender, won last year's Virginia AAA title despite having their top runner finish 20th overall. West Potomac, another Northern Region school, was the runner-up, with its top runner finishing 19th.
To foster the team atmosphere, Schuster instituted tougher practices and enacted stricter rules, including making study hall and bus rides to meets mandatory.
"It helped us physically, but I also think it's helped us mentally," Lopacki said of the changes. "It makes our team take cross-country more seriously."
The key to team success is pack running, getting the team to cross the finish line as close together as possible to score the fewest points. This starts with a lead runner, who for Osbourn Park is usually Lopacki but can change depending on who is having the best day.
Behind the leader, the rest of the squad tries to stay as close as possible.
"I just try to stay with the leader, keep him within sight the entire time," said Draper, who usually runs second or third. "I want to make sure I'm not too far behind him."
At its best, the finish line can look like a sea of Osbourn Park jerseys, as it did at William & Mary.
"I think it's a beautiful thing to watch," Schuster said, "when a team can come together like that."