Real Talent Follows the Leader

Sam Chambers
Maverick Boys' Cross Country is rambling to find their race pace.
Find the fast guy, lock into race pace and pass at the finish is a strategy that is working so far for the St. John’s boys’ cross country team. All three boys’ teams won their respective divisions at the 29th annual Ramble held at Buffalo Bayou last Saturday. The varsity, led by freshman, Xavier Gonzales (’14), started off the event with a finger-nail thin finish over Lutheran South. “The scoring of cross country dictates that your top 5 finish places determine your team score, and in case of a tie, the team with the better 6th runner wins. Philip Taffet finished 6th for the Mavericks, 3 spots ahead of the Lutheran South’s 6th runner, to break the tie and give us the team championship,” said Head Coach Richie Mercado (’78). The JV and Middle School Mavs followed with easier victories.


When the varsity struck a pose for the championship team photo, however, Xavier was well out of the viewfinder and on his way to a tennis practice to strike service aces.

Gonzales burns the candle at both ends with cross country and tennis, not compromising his dedication to either sport, except for perhaps a photo now and then. His efforts have paid big dividends. Xavier is the top runner on the cross country team and is the number one ranked USTA tennis player in Texas for boys U14. He trains with the cross country team and puts in an additional 1-2 hours of tennis practice at least five days a week which includes some night tennis.


This writer, Sam Chambers (’77), was delighted to discover that Xavier has followed the ten-to-win sport psychology principles taken from Head Case-Lacrosse Goalie and applied them to the tennis court. “Especially in tennis where it is so mental, you have to be focused,” said Gonzales. “If you are really fretting about technique, or minute technical things such as footwork, you will not be able to play at a high level. Instead of going all out and competing, you will get mad at yourself, and fall apart. You really need let go, release, and let yourself flow and your shots flow. If you trust in yourself you can do so much more and be stronger.”


Xavier is not so convinced that running is as mental as it is physical. “I don’t focus on anything else except running my hardest,” said Xavier. “I find the fast guy and tail him.  Derek Fossi (’11) is fast, so I just stay with him.” At the Ramble, however, Xavier lost track of Fossi and went with an unknown runner who was setting the race pace. Holding on to second place, Gonzales was passed at the end and took third. “I try to not get too bunched up and if there is someone who is running a good pace, within a half mile, I can find them,” said Xavier. “At the McNeil race there was a guy who chatted about running a fast race before the start. I stayed with him and eventually passed him at the end.” In the 7th grade Gonzales followed a runner that was wheezing the entire time and thought his chances were good until the runner took off and sprinted for the win. “It’s hard to tell sometimes,” said Xavier. “I should have stayed with Derek [at the Ramble.] I got out of the game plan and went out too fast. I didn’t have enough for the finish.”


Fossi and his fellow captains, Ryan Eisenman (’11) and Parker Schiffer (’11) are excited about this year’s team. They have several young runners, in addition to Xavier, pushing the elder statesmen. “Our top runner is a freshman and that makes us push ourselves harder,” said Ryan. “It was a wake up call when he passed us,” quipped Schiffer.


With only a few 3-mile races behind them, Fossi is just starting to gauge the team’s potential. “Our young runners are really pushing us this year and are better than they have been in the past,” said Fossi. “I’m excited that we won the Ramble. If we can channel that young energy and improve our practice routine, we are going to find out what we can really do, but right now the team is over-competitive. Individuals are trying to get ahead of each other instead of developing a steady team pace, but in due time I’m confident we’ll find a balance of pushing ourselves and staying together.”


As the team continues to train and trust, those fingernail finishes will wax into a bigger margin of victory—and they’ll finish with the speed of Xavier’s service ace.


Sam Chambers- Athletic News