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Former Cougar harriers excel on college stage


December 11, 2013 | 11:40 AM

North Harrison High School has developed a bit of a reputation of producing quality distance runners.

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Tyler Byrne, University of Louisville (click for larger version)
Year after year, the Cougars have either an individual or the entire team competing at the IHSAA State Finals.

Success hasn't stopped at the state finals for a pair of runners excelling at the next level.

On Nov. 23, although at locations nearly a country apart, the University of Louisville's Tyler Byrne and University of Southern Indiana's Johnnie Guy earned All-American honors in cross country. Byrne placed 29th at the NCAA Division I race in Terre Haute, while Guy was ninth at the NCAA Division II race in Spokane, Wash.

For the speedy distance duo, some credit goes to their alma mater.

"It begins with good coaches," Guy said. "The training they put us through in high school really prepared us for training at the college level. We did high mileage in high school, and not a lot of other high schools do that. They also made it fun so we wouldn't get burned out."

As far as mileage, Guy said he puts in about 100 miles per week during the season before tapering down come time for postseason races.

"Training varies from week to week," Byrne said of his workouts. "Early in the practice season, I would peak at 100 to 105 miles per week. Practicing toward the end, I lowered a little bit to 70. I'm different than some other runners because I still want to get the work in."

Byrne is very much aware of the tradition of North Harrison harriers as well, including his brother, Ryan, who also ran for Louisville.

"To see it start with my brother, but really it dates back before my brother, to grow up and watch them compete and do well inspired me," the younger Byrne said. "A big part of the success goes to the coaches, Tim Martin and Jerry Love. They really helped take the program to another level."

Speaking highly of the coaches, Byrne said Martin brought a lot of knowledge about running, especially tactically running smart.

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Johnnie Guy, University of Southern Indiana (click for larger version)
"What he and Jerry put in was a belief in all of us as runners and as a team," Byrne said. "Both brought positive attitudes that made running fun for us. They always told us, if we were willing to do the work as a team, we'd reach the goals we had set."

Making a late charge at nationals, Byrne, a red-shirt junior, was in 90th place after the first 3k of the 10k event. At the midway point, Byrne advanced to 45th then was 32nd with 2k to go. At the finish, Byrne was 29th, earning a spot on the podium, the same he climbed in high school.

"Conditions were lovely that day," Byrne said sarcastically. "It was a cold mud-fest with nice cold temperatures and 30-mile-per-hour winds. It was something I just had to work through. I'd say it benefited me knowing the course and having been there in the past. I knew there were no surprises. The 10k course is the 5k course back to back, which is what I knew from high school."

Through the race, Byrne knew he had to make up ground to reach his goal of All-American, which is the top 40.

"I hoped to get out quicker at the start to be a little higher," he said. "I knew after the 1k mark I was not where I needed to be. I made a conscious effort to move up by the 5k mark, then it was a matter of grinding and picking people up."

A familiar name to Indiana runners, Futsum Zienasellassie, placed fourth overall. Now running for Northern Arizona University, Zienasellassie won three state cross country titles in Indiana. Byrne and Zienasellassie had a rivalry in high school, including going 1-2 in the 3,200 on the track their senior years, with Byrne the runner-up.

"Seeing him finish fourth, it was pretty cool, and I was excited for him to represent Indiana runners," Byrne said.

Guy made the transition from Purdue University to USI after his first semester of college. He alluded to the smaller campus and smaller class sizes as the reason for the move.

"It is a D2 school, and some people think I'm stupid for the move, but we have a couple meets with D1 competition," Guy said. "Adams State, the team that won our nationals, could be a top five D1 school every year. Runners in D2 can run just as fast as runners in D1."

For Guy, it was a comfort thing.

"You can't run fast at a place you aren't happy at," he said.

Although Guy placed ninth at nationals, he wasn't pleased with his effort.

"I didn't feel that good at all," Guy said. "I still managed to get ninth, which I know is not bad. As a team, we didn't do as good either. Our No. 2 guy passed out with a few miles to go. I understand it could have been a lot worse for me and the team, but it could have been a lot better."

The 2013 cross country season was an impressive one for Guy. He cruised to victories on the conference and Midwest Region meets.

"I did really well at our first big meet, winning at Michigan State," Guy said. "I beat Michigan State's top runner, who was an All-American on the track last year, and he ended up All-American in cross country this year. Winning that race helped me realize I was in good shape."

Byrne had a big year as well, setting a school record in the 8k and 10k.

It hasn't come easy for Byrne either. Injuries slowed his first few seasons.

"Looking back at my sophomore year in cross country, I had a pretty severe injury, a fractured fibia," Byrne said. "I had to sit out the indoor and outdoor season my sophomore year. I got back to healthy and, last year, my junior year of cross country, I felt good. But, after one race, I had some issues physically. For three seasons I wasn't able to compete. When I finally got back to work and into training, I got in a good season of track."

Being fully healthy led to a big summer of workouts leading into what would be an All-American campaign, along with winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference individual title.

"In training, I put in a good summer of work and, when the competition part of the season began, I knew I was back," Byrne said. "There were a few good races where I set some PRs, and that mentally helped me with my confidence."

Byrne and Guy aren't the only runners excelling from North Harrison at their respective institutions.

At the University of Louisville, Jonathan Reynolds is going through his freshman year with the running spikes on.

"He's handling his first year pretty well," Byrne said of Reynolds. "It's nice to have him on the same team again. When I was a senior in high school, he was just a freshman and, because I had to redshirt one year, we'll have two years together here."

Two runners who used to suit up in the blue and white join Guy on the Screaming Eagles roster: twin brother Josh Guy and Jason Head.

Josh Guy was USI's second-fastest runner at nationals, placing 51st with a time of 31:30.

"Josh was hoping for All-American but missed by 11 spots, about 10 seconds off," Johnnie said. "This was his first full cross country season in college because he was bothered by some injuries last year. He ran really well ,and I know the coaches were really happy with his performance."

Now the transition begins to compete on the track.

College season is broken up into a short indoor season through the winter months before closing with the outdoor track and field season. Johnnie Guy reached nationals last year in the indoor 5k and seeks to repeat his appearance again. During outdoor, he qualified in the 5k and 10k with this season's primary focus on the longer distance.

Byrne is slated to run the same events at the D1 level for the Cardinals.

"I'll take a short period of down time and relax mentally and give my body a break physically," Byrne said. "Once I feel recovered, I'll get ready for another long season of training for the indoor and outdoor season."

There is little doubt the North Harrison connection stays in contact with one another.

"I was really pumped for Tyler because that was one of his big goals since coming back from a few injuries," Johnnie Guy said. "I was really happy for him."

"To see Johnnie do well is awesome, and he's really coming along," Byrne said. "His brother, Josh, had a great year and was right behind him. They had a lot of success."

Twitter: @CoryDemSports

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