Vitt and Dyer now the leaders of a pack
At the beginning of the season, Basehor-Linwood High School cross country coach Jeff Venema liked to call Stephen Dyer and Alex Vitt "Los Lonely Boys." Dyer and Vitt were the only experienced runners on the team and the only Bobcats who were running in the boys' varsity races. They were competing against other schools that generally had at least seven varsity runners, two lonely green flashes in a sea of red, purple, blue and orange jerseys.
But that changed at a Sept. 19 meet at Seneca. In that race a group of freshmen started running varsity with the junior, Vitt and senior, Dyer, giving them more support and a chance for team success. Now, Vitt and Dyer are no longer lonely, and considering how young their teammates are, Venema might have to start calling them men instead of boys.
"They're really the caretakers for our boys program," Venema said. "They're kind of taking care of things until we can get going."
That might happen sooner than a lot of people thought. At Seneca the boys team took second, with Vitt finishing sixth overall and Dyer finishing 16th. Their solid finishes were nothing new, but this time they were supported by a couple of freshmen medalists, Tyler Henley (13th) and Mark Vaca (20th).
Henley and Vaca had been running junior varsity early in the year to ease them into cross country, but after their performance at Seneca, Venema figures he's found suitable complements to Vitt and Dyer.
"We didn't want to throw those rookie kids into the fire right away," Venema said. "But they got through that first meet. They're still freshman, but they're competing and competing well."
Henley and Vaca aren't the only promising runners in their class, either. Dylan Blanchard and Dakota Heese have set football as their first priority in the fall, but still have bright futures in cross country. It looks like, from here out, Vitt and Dyer will be part of a full varsity roster, a prospect that excites them given what happened at Seneca.
"We felt like a team," Dyer said. "Me and (Vitt) wanted to try it and it turned out well."
"It was fun that we had a whole varsity team and took second," Vitt added. "It was good to see some of the younger kids in higher places... Most of them can be pretty good if they want to keep doing it."
Getting some team recognition was a welcome change for Vitt and Dyer, who have watched their female counterparts rack up the medals this year. They cheer hard for the BLHS girls (Vitt's sister is one of the top runners and Venema said both are dating members of the girls team), but they're also competitors and can't help but be a little envious of the girls, who regularly have seven medalists.
"I do get jealous, but it's nice to know we're winning something" Dyer said of the girls team. "It's nice to see how much they've improved."
Venema said he was proud of the way his boys had handled all the recognition the girls had been getting, noting that they've not allowed it to drive a wedge through the squad.
"It's admirable, because they've had to stay in the shadows for a long time," he said.
Vitt is likely to bust out of the shadows as an individual this season. He's been the Bobcats' top male finisher at every meet and wants to break the 18-minute mark this season, which would make him competitive with some of the area's top runners. He's also got a whole senior season ahead of him.
For Dyer this is the last go round and time is running out. The team is unlikely to really turn a corner this year, but he can take pride in the role he played building the program in the years to come.
"When I started there were maybe five guys instead of 14, like there are now," Dyer said. "Every year we'd talk to guys and recruit more of them and we keep practice fun, so they stay."
"With Stephen being a senior, it's kind of his legacy to the school to leave the program in good shape," Venema said. "He came in with hardly anybody and now we've got a good base. It's been a long, lonely ride for Stephen."
Perhaps, but Dyer's days of running alone appear to have ended at Seneca.