Commentary

Inside the Gatorade cooler

Updated: January 27, 2010, 5:43 PM ET
By Ben Rohrbach

Pouring out a couple cups of leftover ESPN RISE the Flavor after the release of the Gatorade Boys and Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year selections ...

Of all the high schools in all the towns in all the world, she walked into this one. Parkway Central (Mo.) senior and 2007-08 Gatorade Missouri Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Diane Robison could have done her best Humphrey Bogart impression when 2007-08 Gatorade Nebraska Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Emily Sisson moved to Chesterfield, Mo., before their junior seasons. The two have been teammates for the past two years, and Sisson has captured Gatorade Missouri Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year honors, edging Robison, in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.

"We have two of the top 20 runners in the country, and they couldn't go about it in more different ways," said Parkway Central head coach Ken Greathouse. "There's no comparison in the way in which they achieve their success. Diane has an enormous, loping stride; Emily has short, quick strides that are just relentless. There are some coaches who try to make everybody into little machines, running the same way. Sure, there are a lot of mechanical things you can work on, but at some point you have to say, 'This works for her. Tinkering with that could be counterproductive.'"

Nobody could argue with that strategy after Sisson and Robison placed 1-2 at the 2008 Class 4 state meet. Pushing each other to greater heights in 2009, they finished third and 19th, respectively, at this past season's national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. As Bogie said in the 1943 movie classic "Casablanca," 'I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.' ...

Only one Virginian truly challenged 2009-10 Gatorade State Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Kathleen Stevens this past season: Her twin sister, Joanna Stevens.

"During the season, it was a back-and-forth thing between the two of them," said their head coach, James DeMarco of Blacksburg (Va.) High. "They had some really impressive performances this season. Everything went really well."

The sisters finished 1-2 among Virginians in all 10 of their meets this past fall. While Joanna won four of seven head-to-head meetings during the regular season -- including a fourth-place finish at the Great American Cross Country Festival -- Kathleen won both the Class AA state meet (in a course-record 17:34) and the Nike Cross Nationals Southeast Regional championships (17:14.6) in addition to placing second at the NXN Finals (17:48.6). Joanna finished second (17:39), second (17:24.5) and ninth (18:00.8), respectively.

"At one point in the state meet, I looked up, and they were perfectly side-by-side," added DeMarco. "Their strides were in synch for about 30 meters, and they looked like one runner. They paced that race really well. Mentally, I think they're tougher now. The NXN Regional was their first time at a meet that size, and they handled the uniqueness of that pretty darn well. They apply themselves in everything they do. They represent the cross country athlete -- disciplined and dedicated. They do everything they're supposed to do."

I hope DeMarco was singing that Foreigner song out loud during the state meet: "Fill my eyes with that double vision." We smell a Doublemint gum commercial in the works. ...

A year ago, Collins Hill (Ga.) High's Amanda Winslow and Tatnall (Del.) School's Juliet Bottorff blazed separate trails that led to 2008-09 Gatorade State Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year awards for each. This past fall, Collins Hill senior Nicky Akande and Tatnall sophomore Haley Pierce followed those footsteps to ROY honors of their own. Either there's Gatorade in the water in Suwanee, Ga., and Wilmington, Del., or Andrew Hudson and Patrick Castagno, respectively, are pretty darn good distance coaches. Akande revealed today that she's headed for Villanova on an athletic scholarship. ...

Same goes for Father Jim Kirby, head coach of the Dowling Catholic (Iowa) girls cross country team, who had the honor of coaching seniors Katie Flood and Ashlie Decker, ranked No. 11 and 13, respectively, on the DyeStat Elite Top 25 series this past fall.

Flood won the Nike Cross Nationals Heartland Regional championships and the NXN Finals in addition to placing third at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional championships and eighth at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. Decker was second at the NXN Heartland Regional, fourth at both the NXN Finals and the Foot Locker Regional as well as ninth at the FLCCC. The duo has captured all three Gatorade Iowa Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year honors -- Flood in 2007-08 and 2009-10, and Decker in 2008-09. ...

A remarkable 31 of the 102 boys and girls cross country winners have maintained a 4.0 GPA or better, and another 13 honorees have recorded at least a 3.9 GPA, reinforcing our long-held assumption that the soul of cross country runners often goes beyond running. ...

And for kicks, we'll pour out a little extra Gatorade on Grayson (Ga.) High senior and Ethiopia native Kirubel Erassa for recently earning his U.S. citizenship. The certificate should look nice next to his 2009-10 Gatorade Georgia Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year trophy.