James Greenwood, front, and Haley Gunn, in black, help pace the Oak Hill cross country team in a preseason practice.

James Greenwood, front, and Haley Gunn, in black, help pace the Oak Hill cross country team in a preseason practice.

WALES — James Greenwood was more than satisfied with how he ran during Oak Hill’s 2016 cross country season.

“For me, I thought I did wonderful because I had never run 5Ks competitively like that,” he said. “Each time I got better and better and better.”

Greenwood, now a junior, was in his first season of running cross country. Yet, still, he has a much experience running at the high school level as any of the other Raiders, because in 2016, like Greenwood, Oak Hill was in its first season of cross country in more than a decade.

The objective for 2017 is for Greenwood and the rest of the Raiders to continue to get better and better and better.

“Last year was just kind of seeing where the kids were and sort of help them become runners, basically,” Oak Hill coach Derek Anderson said. “This year, I think it’s focused on individual improvement, being more competitive at the conference level.”

Oak Hill students had the option to run cross country in middle school, but the high school didn’t have a team. Anderson, who is in his third year teaching at Oak Hill, had previously coached cross country and track at other schools.

“I saw there was some interest, especially among high school kids, and so sort of did some fundraising and checked with the school board and got it going after my first year here,” Anderson said.

Sure enough, there was interest. Twenty-five students show up at different times — some were hampered by injuries — for the first season of Oak Hill’s revival last year.

Furthermore, Anderson didn’t want to pull athletes from other sports, though one did defect from soccer, so the cross country team was made up almost entirely of kids who weren’t otherwise occupied during the fall sports season.

“There was definitely an interest for kids who weren’t necessarily involved in football or field hockey or stuff like that,” Anderson said.

The interest remains in Year 2. During the preseason, the Raiders had 18 runners, with the possibility of adding some freshmen once school started.

The year of experience had increased expectations, and the work.

“There’s no hard-day, easy-day anymore, it’s all hard days because Anderson doesn’t know the definition of easy,” junior Haley Gunn said.

“We’re all working a lot harder than we did last year, taking it more seriously.”

Gunn was one of the Raiders who achieved the most individual success last year, despite a nagging knee injury. She came from basically out of nowhere — taking into account her injury-plagued season and Oak Hill’s newness — to place second to Boothbay’s Faith Blethen at the Mountain Valley Conference championships. She and sophomore Isabella Coulombe earn all-conference honors.

Gunn is still dealing with knee issues, but is determined to improve. She’s motivated by Faith.

“I want to catch up to Faith (Blethen),” Gunn said. “She is my goal this year, to at least keep her in sight the whole time.”

Gunn and Coulombe made it to regionals in 2016. Anderson said both want to qualify for the state meet this year.

“They’re definitely capable of that,” Anderson said.

Exceeding last year is the goal of the entire team. Last year’s experience already seems to be paying dividends.

Last year, the Raiders didn’t really know what they were up against. They learned, though, throughout the MVC schedule, which consisted of Class C teams, and then again when they had to go up against their fellow Class B runners at the regional meet.

“Kids have actually raced in meets, so they’re taking it more seriously, which is good,” Anderson said. “So that’s probably the biggest shift is that a lot of the kids are stepping up more and taking practice more serious, which happened at the end of last year, but not at the start.

“The fact that they’ve been to races, and really … seen how fast kids are has really helped motivate them.”

Gunn says an improvement is clearly evident in the Oak Hill boys. She was running right with the boys last year during mile-long practice runs. This year, they’re beating her by more than 15 seconds.

Greenwood said that most of the team took what they learned last year and continued working throughout the offseason.

“This year, a lot more people are geared toward improving a lot more than just trying to run.,” Greenwood said. “A lot of people came back from last year, so they’ve kept up with it through the winter season, and now they’re back, and they’re trying a lot harder.”

More building of the program remains for Anderson and assistant coach Katie Stubbs.

A course remains from previous versions of Oak Hill cross country, but it is small and needs work — something that is done a bit at a time — so the Raiders don’t yet have a home course.

What the Raiders have, which is the course and nearby snowmobile paths, is enough for the new but growing and improving program.

The Oak Hill cross country teaml runs a trail near the school during a preseason practice. Pictured are, front row, James Greenwood, Haley Gunn, Jon Walker and Heaven Martin; Isabella Coulombe and Andrew Day, middle; and Jake Gauthier, coach Derek Anderson, Hunter Spencer and Tyler Desmarais.

The Oak Hill cross country teaml runs a trail near the school during a preseason practice. Pictured are, front row, James Greenwood, Haley Gunn, Jon Walker and Heaven Martin; Isabella Coulombe and Andrew Day, middle; and Jake Gauthier, coach Derek Anderson, Hunter Spencer and Tyler Desmarais.

Oak Hil’s Haley Gunn runs toward the finish line to place second in the girls’ race at the MVC cross country championships at the University of Maine at Augusta in Oct. 2016.

Oak Hil’s Haley Gunn runs toward the finish line to place second in the girls’ race at the MVC cross country championships at the University of Maine at Augusta in Oct. 2016.

Oak Hill runners Katie Daigle and Chloe Pinard, front; Madison Chase, Ethan Mousseau and Jared Chase, middle, and Maggie Grayson Sandy Mann run during a preseason cross country practice.

Oak Hill runners Katie Daigle and Chloe Pinard, front; Madison Chase, Ethan Mousseau and Jared Chase, middle, and Maggie Grayson Sandy Mann run during a preseason cross country practice.

Oak Hill cross country coach Derek Anderson, far right, runs with Isabella Coulombe and Jake Gauthier during a preseason practice.

Oak Hill cross country coach Derek Anderson, far right, runs with Isabella Coulombe and Jake Gauthier during a preseason practice.

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