Friday, October 23, 2009

Nothing Stopped the Rams Run

Gloucester Catholic's cross-country team soared.
By Chris Melchiorre
Inquirer Staff Writer

When the Gloucester Catholic girls' cross-country team's bus broke down in the middle of I-295 before its biggest meet of the year Oct. 13, the Rams didn't panic.
They walked to a nearby Wawa to wait for a new bus with, according to coach Jack Heath, the same trancelike focus they had had when the trip started.
The conference title was on the line. Anything that didn't have to do with beating Woodstown was just white noise to the Rams at that moment.
Then the Wawa caught fire.
With fire trucks storming to the scene, the one thing that still stood out to Heath was the prevailing attitude of his team.
Heath maintains that part of the reason the Rams eventually won the Tri-County Conference Diamond Division title, 27-30 - after a nearly two-hour trek to Woodstown - was because, in the midst of so much chaos, they appeared just as calm and focused as ever. Of course, appeared is the key word in Heath's account of the bizarre trip.
"Oh my gosh, I can't even begin to explain how nervous I was when the Wawa was on fire," said junior runner Taylor Mickle. "At first I thought, 'Oh well, the bus broke down. We'll get there eventually.' But when the Wawa caught on fire, I honestly didn't think we were going to make it to the meet."
It's hard to blame Heath for his misconception. The performance that Mickle and her twin sister, Molly, turned in at the meet - at which they finished first and second, respectively - could have fooled anyone.
"When they got there, they just ran great," Heath said. "They're just such a great 1-2 punch to have."
The Mickle twins - both former first-team all-conference selections - were the backbone of the Gloucester Catholic team that won the Diamond Division in 2007 but fell just short of the title last year after a loss to none other than Woodstown.
"When we finally got to the meet, everyone was still kind of nervous," Molly Mickle said. "But the other coaches were really nice, and they gave us enough time to prepare. After a while, when I realized everything was fine, I was just like, 'OK, this is a huge meet. We have to do this.' "
The Mickle sisters, who describe their relationship as "very competitive," say that type of attitude is part of the reason they have been able to have so much success. And it's part of the reason they were able to prevail over such harsh conditions in that title-clinching meet against Woodstown.
"Even though we were nervous, it wasn't that surprising when we won," Molly Mickle said. "The whole team worked really hard for this. So I feel like we really earned the championship."
For Heath, watching his team prevail through a broken-down bus and a fire - which turned out to be a small fire in which no one was injured - couldn't have been more impressive.
"That's definitely the most unique situation I've ever been in as a coach," said Heath, who has been coaching at Gloucester Catholic since 1981. "One time, I had a bus catch on fire while driving back from Holmdel, but everything was already over. But this was on the way to a meet. And for our team to be able to overcome those two additional hurdles is just a testament to the character of everyone on the team."

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