Senior runners leading by example

Jon Hnedley

In sports, people always talk about the importance of veteran leadership. The ability to have athletes who have been at it for a while to teach and mentor the newer athletes is crucial in building a winning team.  

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spartan cross-country team lost a lot of their seasoned veterans and the leadership they brought to the table. 

Although it’s not as large of a team as it was in past years, the runners have a strong source of power in their tight bond, fueled by their duo of seniors, Jon Hendley and Wayne Alexander.  

When Alexander entered his sophomore year, he said “pretty much everyone that came to the team that year was mostly freshmen and me, so we pretty much built the team from the ground up.”   

The young squad started this rebuild outside of the sport by spending their day-to-day life together.  

“We just became best friends outside of the sport. We would go to every meal together, study together and everything,” he said.  

Although Hendley didn’t join the team until the two were in their junior year, he still fit in great with this team dynamic. 

“We’re a great team, we love to have fun, but we also love doing homework together, and getting post-race dinner together,” Hendley added. 

Although it’s still early in the season, Hendley has already made his presence known on the course – finishing in the top-10 in each of the three races the team has competed in, and even adding a first-place finish in the opening race of the season. 

Wayne Alexander

“That showed me I’m capable of good leadership. It also reminded me of how far I’ve come and how my hard work paid off,” Hendley said. 

Hendley knows how crucial a strong work ethic is for any athlete to achieve success and makes it a point to make his teammates recognize that as well. 

“There’s gonna be easy and hard days, and you’re gonna be hurting, and at the end of a race finishing through that pain, you should be proud of yourself,” he said. 

On the other hand, Alexander especially sees huge potential for growth as a team as a result of the team’s culture. 

“We want [the younger runners] to buy into the culture and friendship of the team, and use that to push each other,” Alexander said. “Just because you’re a freshman doesn’t mean you can’t be the best runner on the team. Seniority doesn’t dictate how good you are, so we’re always pushing everyone to be the best they can be.” 

Alexander also sees it as the key for continuing the team’s rebuild in the coming years after he’s gone,  

“Hopefully they can carry this culture onto the freshmen who come in each year, and that’ll continue to get passed down,” he said. “That’s really what I’m trying to do before I leave.” 

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