Following a freshman year that showed plenty of potential, according to Haddonfield cross country head coach Nick Baker, Seth Clevenger had the ability to be a more than successful runner for the duration of his high-school career with the Bulldawgs.
But a nagging hip injury that showed itself during Clevenger’s sophomore cross country season (after he played soccer his freshman year) ultimately required surgery, sidelining the young runner for the majority of his sophomore and junior seasons.
Baker, a longtime coach at Haddonfield, remembers watching the unfortunate situation Clevenger was in and hoped he would be able to make it back to the course or the track at some point by the end of his high-school career.
“It really was one of those injuries and surgeries that a lot of people don’t come back from,” Baker said. “And if they do, they’re very rarely the same. There were a lot of really dark moments with a lot of frustration about maybe not being able to come through the obstacles he had in front of him.
“Having coached as long as I have, there’s a lot of great stories that you get to see play out and share with others, and he’s one of those great stories that I look forward to sharing with future students and teams about perseverance,” Baker added.
After overcoming months of rehab, physical therapy and heavily altered training, Clevenger returned last spring in time to be a part of the 4×800 state championship team for Haddonfield.
In the summer, there was another heavily altered training plan with plenty of cross training to keep Clevenger fresh throughout the season. The senior ended up putting together a historic season to help lead Haddonfield to yet another standout year for one of the best cross country programs across the state.
For that, Clevenger is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Following a strong regular season, Clevenger went on to run a 15:51 at Holmdel in the state meet, the fourth fastest race ever for a Haddonfield runner and the fastest since 2010, en route to the team’s 19th Group 2 state championship.
Clevenger then ran a 15:36 to place fourth overall at the Meet of Champions, the fifth fastest individual time for a South Jersey runner in history on the course at Holmdel.
He led a boys team that finished third at the meet, averaging a time of 16:21 between the team’s five scoring members, good for the third fastest average by a South Jersey school.
Looking back, Clevenger says he remembers going into this season with the determination to give it his all in the final year at Haddonfield, after what was a long journey to be able to race alongside his teammates again.
“After being out my whole junior year following my surgery for the injury and my stress fractures, I was pretty determined going into this season and made sure to give it my all,” Clevenger said. “It was such a long journey to get through but I knew I could do it … I just had to trust the process and it led up to a good season.”
Clevenger, Baker said, is more of a racer than a ‘runner, meaning he shined when he could run against specific athletes in races and stick with them as a challenge, instead of aiming for a specific time. That helped lead Clevenger to new heights this year with his times, something he wasn’t specifically aiming for.
“Seth kind of learned this year that he’s more of a racer … Some kids are better at running by themselves and time trials, but Seth really enjoyed the challenge of running against other specific people, even if they’re better than him, and sticking with them,” Baker said.
“Winning as much as possible this year was really the goal to be honest,” Clevenger said. “The times just came along with it. It was really satisfying to see how the team and I did individually.
“We put a lot of work in this past summer, so it was a lot of fun for it to pay off.”