Will Raby ran his first race when he was in second grade. It was the Hopebuilders Fun Run, a one-mile race in Eastover. He finished second.
When Alex Taylor ran the mile in elementary school, he almost always finished first.
"I would always get first place so I figured I was all right at running," he said.
Taylor and Raby are still running in college as some of the top members of Appalachian State's cross country and track and field teams. They've helped the Mountaineers win the Southern Conference triple crown the second year in a row by taking the cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field conference championships.
"They put their own stamp on Appalachian State," said cross country head coach and track and field assistant Mike Curcio. "It's been nice that we've had two young men who have done really well in their first two years."
As a runner at Providence High, Taylor got the attention of ASU recruiters at state and regional meets.
"Watching Alex we knew he had a little something special," said Curcio, who has led the Mountaineers for 17 years. "He had that little fifth gear he could go to and dig down and accelerate."
Ready for college
Taylor, 19, made an immediate impact on the team as a freshman. He finished in the top five in the 800-meter and the mile in the conference indoor championships, and placed third in the 800- and 1,500-meter races during the conference outdoor meet. He also qualified for the USA Track and Field Junior Nationals in the 1,500-meter event and finished ninth overall.
Taylor, who is studying building science, said working with Providence coach Steven Touranjoe prepared him for racing in college.
"My coach at Providence, he had me really well prepared for college and I think that's one of the main things that helped my success this year," he said.
Last year, as a sophomore, Taylor was named second team all-conference in cross country and won the indoor mile race at the conference meet. He also ranks third on the all-time list at ASU in the 1,500-meter outdoor run with a time of 3:46.97 and third all-time on the indoor mile with a 4:06.46.
Curcio said Taylor is willing to do anything it takes to help the team and proved it at the indoor conference meet his freshman year. After running the 800-meter preliminaries, Taylor thought he was done for the day. But when the 400-meter runner in the distance medley relay was nowhere to be found at race time, Taylor had to jump in.
"When (Curcio) said, 'Alex, put your shoes on,' I knew he wasn't kidding and I had to go in serious mode really quick," said Taylor.
The team won the race, and Taylor had one of his fastest 400-meter times of the year.
"He's a good team player," said Curcio. "He'll do whatever he has to do ... to help the team."
Raby, 20, initially wasn't recruited by Appalachian State. Instead, he contacted them.
A Charlotte native who started running track at Alexander Graham Middle School, Raby went to high school at McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., like his father, Jim. ASU recruits almost exclusively in North Carolina, so Curcio didn't know anything about Raby.
"We didn't know what we were getting into," Curcio said.
After walking onto the team and not competing on travel teams as a freshman, Raby led the Mountaineers cross country team to its sixth-straight Southern Conference championship last year as a sophomore. North Mecklenburg graduate Sean Soderman, Myers Park grad Andrew Yarchin and Rock Hill's Brandon Hudgins also helped the team.
Raby's eighth-place finish (the highest on the team) earned him second-team all-conference honors.
"It was a big surprise to me and everyone else that I was running well," said Raby, who was one of the top two runners throughout the season. "I was just lucky that I could be one of the people to step up this year."
After the season, his coaches named him team MVP.
Curcio said more than just fast running earned Raby the title.
"The motivating factor for him was he didn't want to let his teammates down and he wanted his performance to help the team," he said.
Raby struggled during the indoor conference meet because he had the flu but recorded the second-fastest 5,000-meter indoor time in school history earlier in the season: 14:36.91.
During the outdoor season, he finished fourth in the 10,000 meters and first in the 5,000-meter race at the conference meet.
At the end of the year, Raby was awarded the Rick Edmundson Scholarship, given annually to an in-state student not on athletic scholarship "but one who has made uncommon contributions to the athletic program and to the University," according to the athletic department website. The $1,000 scholarship will be in addition to a partial athletic scholarship that Raby, who is studying economics, earned for next year.
Raby and Taylor are in Boone this summer training for next season.
Raby, who runs on his toes and very upright, is more suited for longer distances, while Taylor prefers middle and short distances. Together they hope to bring Appalachian another triple crown.
"We all want each other to do well so that we can do well as a team," said Taylor.
"We have to rely on each other."