South runners becoming accustomed to success
When John Castellaw arrived at South three years ago, the cross country team was destitute.
In fact, it wasn’t even a team — the Titans were unable to enter the necessary five runners to complete a team score. The next year, when there was enough, South finished dead last at its Class 6A regional with 173 points.
Then a series of coinciding events would alter the landscape for the Titans and Castellaw, the team’s top runner.
First-year coach Betsey Goering invigorated the team by cultivating a family atmosphere in practices. For Castellaw, South literally became his family when his half-brother and sister, freshmen Tony and Hannah Matsui, joined the team.
Castellaw led the way and he finally had enough followers for South to qualify for state for the first time since 2005, trimming nearly 100 points from its regional score from a year ago.
“I don’t feel alone in this sport anymore,” Castellaw said. “It had been an individual sport at times for me, so it felt great having a team for once. I felt overjoyed about it because I had wanted that for the longest time. And to do that having family with me was the perfect touch.”
A return trip is not out of the question with six of seven runners back, including Castellaw and Matsui at the front of the pack. But the difference will be in the middle of the pack, where Rayce O’Hair, Toby VanCleave, Ismael Ramirez and Kaden Griffin must thrive.
“I had to stress to them the importance of being part of a family and part of a team,” Goering said. “You can run for the rest of your life, but you only get four years to run with a team. You’re never going to experience that again, so make the most of it now.”
Outside of practices, Goering had the team volunteer at local races. Not only did they receive an up-close look at experienced runners, but also quality bonding time.
“I remember selling cowbells at one of the races and we started messing around and doing the ‘Cupid Shuffle,’ ” VanCleave said. “Before we would have never done that. But now we’re more like a family. We smile a little more when we’re wearing our team shirts.”
That’s what made it so awe-inspiring when South rose from the lowest of lows in one season. When it was announced they had qualified, there was a wide array of emotion.
“It was pure joy,” VanCleave said. “We were so excited. There were a lot of tears, I won’t lie. It was pretty surprising. We were all just kind of speechless.”
In Castellaw’s last season, he hopes South can leave others feeling the same way this season.
“We all have that ambition now,” he said. “Just because we qualified last year doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to make it back. We’re still pushing ourselves and working hard to get back to where we want to be again.”