Providence High boys’ cross country coach Steve Touranjoe knew that, one day, he wouldn’t have Wyatt Maxey to lean on.
Maxey, the Panthers’ ace long-distance runner the past four years, is now at N.C. State; but Touranjoe said he believes Providence could be a much stronger team this year.
“I guess now I’m really gonna have to start coaching, huh?” Touranjoe said, adding a laugh.
“Obviously, we were preparing for this since last year. We’ve had solid runners in the past like Wyatt. Our philosophy this year is, ‘We may not have an up-front runner that can win races, but we’re going to have a really strong pack.’ ”
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Maxey wrapped up his high school cross country career with the Panthers by winning the NCHSAA 4A championship, the first of two state titles Maxey would claim his senior year.
He won the 1,000-meter title at the NCHSAA indoor track championships to go along with the back-to-back titles in the 1,600-meter run at the NCHSAA outdoor track championships his sophomore and junior years.
Now that Maxey has moved on, the pressure is on former Providence teammates.
“It’s put the pressure on us to represent ourselves as more of a team,” said junior Tanner Sutter, one of two SoMeck 8 4A all-conference returners for the Panthers. “We want people to see Providence as less ‘Wyatt and the rest of the guys’ and more of a really strong front seven.”
That has been both a strength and weakness for the team the past several years. While Maxey could be counted on to finish at or near the top of the individual standings, teammates would finish a minute or more behind.
That won’t be the case this year, Touranjoe said.
“We have a really strong core of guys who are (within) less than 20 seconds of each other,” Touranjoe said. “That can be just as dangerous, if not even better, to have a solid pack of guys. If I can have a solid pack of guys running under 17 (minutes), that’s even more dangerous as having an up-front runner like Wyatt.
“The guys are closer together, and they’re feeding off each other. Their times are coming down, so this year we want to pack it in as best as we can. If we can get somebody up front who can finish in the top 10, then we’ve exceeded our expectations.”
That’s now the goal, according to Sutter: build on the Panthers’ success. The team is ranked 17th in the state in NCRunners.com’s preseason poll.
“We didn’t expect to move up since we lost Wyatt,” Sutter said. “Seeing that ranking come out was a huge confidence booster for us. When we’d go to meets, people would say, ‘Oh, there’s Wyatt.’
“Now we’re hoping they say, ‘Oh, there’s Providence.’ ”