EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 29, 2012

Talented mentor

Senior O'Donnell helping groom Methuen's youngsters

On Cross Country Dave Dyer
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Like any true competitor, Methuen standout Mike O’Donnell has plenty of individual goals for his senior season in cross country.

And, the way he’s been running, there’s at least a fair chance that he’ll reach them in the next few weeks.

”I know it’ll be hard, but I really want to win the (Division 1) Eastern Mass. Meet and I’d like to finish in the top three at All-State,” said O’Donnell, who was fourth in Eastern Mass. last year,

Yet, what really gets him motivated is, as the only senior on a varsity with five sophomores and a freshman in the top seven, trying to lead the team through Eastern Mass. as a qualifier for All-State.

“It’d be great to get to All-State as a team,” said O’Donnell. “It’d be like when I was a sophomore. We had a lot of injuries and hadn’t done that well and then we surprised everyone by finishing third in Eastern Mass. and making All-State.”

If the Rangers continue their remarkable run of qualifying for All-State, Methuen coach Bill James will give much of the credit to O’Donnell.

“Mike has been a great role model for our young runners,” said James. “His talent obviously helps us, but his leadership has been instrumental in the development of this group of sophomores to help lead us.

”He has a great attitude and all of the younger runners admire and respect him. His love of the sport rubs off on the other runners.”

For his part, O’Donnell relishes his leadership role and remembers when he was a young runner for the Rangers.

“It’s kind of cool to get to know them and I tell them the kind of strategies (former star) Jared Reddy used to tell me when I was a freshman in track and he was a senior,” said O’Donnell. “Now I’m telling Jeff (Reddy, a freshman) the same things.

“The main thing I try to tell them is that they can do it. They can get psyched out and need a confidence boost, especially in the bigger meets.”

Confidence in the bigger meets is something that O’Donnell has not lacked. He attacks the field.

“He is definitely talented, but the most impressive trait is his ability to compete,” said James. “He runs his best races in the biggest races. He loves to compete and challenge himself against the best runners.”

The record reflects that. He beat a tough field at the MVC meet last year to become the first junior to ever win the league meet and, at the Eastern Mass. meet his time of 15:59 tied Kevin Alliette for the fastest Methuen time ever run on the 5K Franklin Park course. Then Saturday, he became the first runner from any team to place first in the MVC meet, with a course record at Chelmsford.

Following what O’Donnell hopes will be a fitting conclusion to his cross country career, he will turn his attention to track, where he already owns the school record for the mile (4:15.89 — 6th best all-time in the area) and hopes to add other new records, while also giving more thought to his collegiate career.

At this time, O’Donnell is considering four schools — UMass Amherst, URI, UConn and Clemson. He has already had an official visit to UConn and he’s lining up visits to Clemson and UMass.

“I want to go to a bigger school with a lot of options because I’m not sure what I want to get into yet,” said O’Donnell.

Wherever he lands, O’Donnell is sure to learn the ropes as a rookie and hand down what he has learned as he steadily gets better.

He already has shown he can do that in a big way.

Best girl runner ever?

A young cross country runner in California is tearing up courses at a pace never seen before, leading some experts to already proclaim that she may soon be considered one of the great prep runners of all-time.

Simi Valley (Calif.) High junior Sarah Baxter won the Mt. Sac Invitational with a blistering time of 16:00. That time obliterated a previous 11-year-old record on the three-mile course — widely considered one of the toughest in the state and possibly the nation — by some 16 seconds, leaving area writers and prep track analysts completely stunned.

“(Baxter’s 16 minute run is) the most amazing female individual performance in U.S. prep annals,” PrepCalTrack.com editor Rich Gonzalez, one of the most respected track analysts on the West Coast, wrote on his website.

“Baxter, already owning the distinction of beating the strongest prep field in U.S. history at last year’s Nike Cross Nationals, applied an even grander exclamation point with this performance. It may be the greatest high school performance ever.”

O'Donnell's best Cross country 5K at Franklin Park -- 15:59 (ties school record) 5K at Chemsford -- 15:50 (course record) 2.7-mile Methuen course -- 14:37 (course record) Track 800 --- 1:56.69 Mile -- 4:15.89 (school record) 2-mile -- 9:29.14