Lakeland High School junior Jake Crowell competes during the Chesapeake Invitational last Saturday at Bells Mill Park. Cavaliers coach Chris Novakoski names Crowell as the best runner on the boys’ team and said he has a shot at advancing to regionals at the end of the season. (Melissa Glover photo)
Lakeland High School junior Jake Crowell competes during the Chesapeake Invitational last Saturday at Bells Mill Park. Cavaliers coach Chris Novakoski names Crowell as the best runner on the boys’ team and said he has a shot at advancing to regionals at the end of the season. (Melissa Glover photo)

Lakeland makes strides

Published 10:23pm Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In team sports, the best result comes when players help each other out. Lakeland High School’s cross-country team is evidence the results can be similar when coaches help each other out, too.

With track and soccer coaches encouraging their players to run cross-country, Lakeland has fielded a larger team this year, and it has shown improvement as the season has progressed, particularly on the girls’ side.

New coach Chris Novakoski was particularly excited after Tuesday’s Southeastern District meet at Bells Mill Park in Chesapeake, where the girls placed sixth out of seven teams but only 12 points behind cross-town rival Nansemond River High School.

“They are very, very close to surpassing Nansemond River right now,” Novakoski said. “I think they are doing excellent, and I think that they can win the conference.”

Lakeland High School junior Juli Durand runs in the Chesapeake Invitational last Saturday at Bells Mill Park. She is currently the fastest runner on her team, finishing the 5000-meter run with a time of 23:35.96. In Tuesday's district meet, she cut it down to 23:29.98. (Melissa Glover photo)
Lakeland High School junior Juli Durand runs in the Chesapeake Invitational last Saturday at Bells Mill Park. She is currently the fastest runner on her team, finishing the 5000-meter run with a time of 23:35.96. In Tuesday’s district meet, she cut it down to 23:29.98. (Melissa Glover photo)

The girls were led by junior Juli Durand, who placed 29th out of 112 runners in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 23:29.98.

Novakoski said both the boys and girls showed solid improvement in their times during Saturday’s Chesapeake Invitational, but this did not carry over into this week for the boys.

“I had mixed results from the boys on Tuesday,” he said. “ Half of them improved their times and half of them went backwards.”

The boys came in ninth out of nine teams. They were led by junior Jake Crowell, who placed 40th out of 125 with a time of 19:06.45.

Novakoski said the girls have not been able to field a full team the last two years, but have more than enough this year. Having served as a teacher at Lakeland for four years, Novakoski said students’ familiarity with him might have helped turnout, but he especially credited activities director Gregory Rountree and girls’ soccer coach Matt Crowder.

Crowder promoted the team with his players, and Rountree encouraged track athletes to participate.

“With everybody being on the same page here and working together, we’ve really done tremendous things with the girls’ team,” Novakoski said.

The squad is primarily made up of seniors and juniors. While senior Alexus Copeland is one of the team’s top runners, Novakoski said the junior class carries the team, comprising the rest of his top five with Durand, LeAnna Harville, Amanda Mason and Megan Cox.

Cox just returned from injury a few weeks ago, but is rapidly cutting her time, going from a 32:26.76 on Saturday to a 28:00.88 on Tuesday.

“She’s going to be the difference,” Novakoski said. “If we’re going to win this conference, she’s going to have to get down into the 24s, and she’s definitely capable of it.”

The coach said Durand and Copeland may have a chance to move on to regionals. To do this, they would need to place in the top 15 at the conference meet.

For the boys, it will likely be more of an uphill battle this year, as the team needs to show a lot of improvement.

“That’s the big deal with them,” Novakoski said. “They need to continue to improve, and we should be in the middle of the pack.”

He cited his two male standouts as being Crowell and sophomore Jalil Bonds.

“Crowell is capable of having his time under 18 minutes this year,” the coach said. “He was close in the first meet. Crowell has a chance to move on to region.”

Novakoski said Bonds shows tremendous promise, being so young and already establishing himself as the team’s second-best runner.

“He’s only about two minutes behind Crowell, so the ceiling for Bonds is high,” Novakoski said.

The coach was pleased with the Virginia High School League’s realignment, saying, “I think it’s definitely beneficial. We’re competing against teams that are roughly the same size as us.”

He acknowledged it may not be a great change for all sports, but “it’s definitely better for cross-country.”

Lakeland will next compete in the third district meet on Tuesday at Bells Mill Park.

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