Leadership, hard work and dedication ingredients for Haddonfield boys’ cross country’s 200-plus…

Leadership, hard work and dedication ingredients for Haddonfield boys’ cross country’s 200-plus dual meet win streak

Haddonfield finished its 2017 dual meet scheduled undefeated and stretched its dual meet win streak to 202 consecutive victories, the longest active streak in South Jersey.

In 1997, Bill Clinton was just beginning his second term as president of the United States, the movie “Titanic” shattered records at the box office, and music groups such as the Spice Girls and Hanson graced the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

In September of that same year, Haddonfield Memorial High School boys cross country started one of the longest dual meet win streaks in South Jersey history.

The Bulldawgs have been unbeatable in dual meets over the past 20 years. Haddonfield recorded its 200th consecutive dual meet win on Tuesday, Sept. 26. The Bulldawgs ensured the streak will continue into 2018 when they finished their dual meet season unbeaten again last Tuesday with a win over Collingswood High School. Haddonfield’s streak of 202 straight wins is the second-longest active streak in the nation and is the second-longest all-time in South Jersey. The streak has lasted so long this year’s current team has no memory of when it started.

“The streak has been going on since three years before I was born,” senior captain Richie Glennon said.

There are a number of reasons the Bulldawgs have been so good for so long. Head coach Nick Baker has played a major role in the program’s success. Baker is in his 36th year as the head coach and developed not just a strong high school program, but a solid feeder system as well.

In 1997, the same year the high school team’s win streak began, Baker launched Haddonfield Middle School cross country to help develop a pipeline of talent.

“We had a bunch of state championships under our belt,” Baker said of the program in 1997. “We were very good up until that point, but we were a little inconsistent with some of our classes.”

“There is no Little League cross country,” Baker added. “We just wanted to expose the kids and let them know they have options when they get to high school. We began to identify kids down there. That really kind of helped kick us off.”

Baker’s family has had a hand in the middle school program for the last two decades. Baker’s wife, Maureen, was previously the head coach of the middle school team and continues to serve as an assistant. His daughter, Courtney, was one of the first runners in the middle school program and now serves as the head coach.

The development of the middle school program helped runners get an early start in the sport, but it remains only a small piece to the win streak puzzle. The runners still have to put in a lot of work when they get to high school, even during the offseason.

The team’s summer running program is intensive enough to allow the Bulldawgs to put up fast times during the season’s early weeks.

“The huge key we preach all the time is our summer running,” Baker said. “We put in a great summer this year, but that falls on the back of a lot of great summers guys have been putting in for a lot of years now.”

Junior captain Derek Gess said all of the team’s runners are expected to work hard in the summer and put in a solid amount of training, even if they’re away from home.

“Summer in cross country is a little bit easier to do than other sports because you don’t have to stay in town to run,” Gess said. “It’s really important to get that summer training in because it gives you all that time to build a base.”

The summer program’s success is due to the leadership of the team’s captains each year.

“All of us, we lead by example and show (the underclassmen) what they’re supposed to do every day,” Glennon said. “Eventually, it will all pay off and there will be a direct correlation with their race times getting faster and faster.”

Baker said his runners have taken ownership of the program over the past two decades and it has allowed the team to blossom during the win streak.

“In the mid-90s, we had a couple of really good leaders,” Baker said. “They passed down the traditions of hard work and summer preparation.”

“The kids have taken ownership of the program,” Baker added. “It used to be me getting on them and now they take care of that. They don’t want to let each other down.”

Baker added he doesn’t believe Haddonfield runners start out any faster than runners from other towns. He feels the program’s tradition of hard work and dedication is what sets it apart from others in South Jersey.

“There’s no magic workout,” he said. “It’s just consistent work that starts in the summer.”

The runners admit victories in dual meets aren’t the same as winning sectional or state championships. Baker uses the dual meets as development opportunities for his younger runners.

Gess said the program’s win streak has seen a few close calls over the years, but the team has been able to kick things up a notch when a conference opponent has challenged them in a dual meet.

“This year, we had the advantage over the other teams in the conference, so a lot of our top guys used these meets as a workout,” Gess said. “But in years past, we’ve had some pretty big meets where we would treat them like our weekend meets.”

This year’s team sees the win streak as a different accomplishment than the sectional or state championships the team has won in the past. Junior captain Griffin Weiner said he was proud to carry on the program’s legacy.

“The win streak is from all teams to have come from Haddonfield for 20 years,” Weiner said. “We’re just a part of that, so we follow in the footsteps of greats. The sectional and state meets, we’ve won them all ourselves. The dual streak shows the legacy of the program.”

With the Bulldawgs having eclipsed the 200-win plateau, the program’s next big milestone would be setting a new South Jersey record for consecutive dual meet wins. The mark is held by Paul VI High School, which won 244 consecutive meets from 1979 to 2007.

The current Haddonfield team will not be around long enough to get a shot at breaking that record, but Baker noted Haddonfield is only about five years away from possibly reaching the mark.

“I’m looking at the seventh graders,” Baker said with a laugh.