Ready to take charge

Smiths step into leadership roles for Alpena XC team

News Photo by James Andersen Brothers Josh Smith, left, and Aden Smith returned as Alpena's top two runners this season and as juniors they're ready to lead the Wildcats back to the state finals. Alpena's boys team qualified for the state finals last season and both Smiths earned all-state honors.

Aden and Josh Smith have been important contributors to the Alpena High cross country team for the last two seasons.

Now they’re ready to take what they’ve learned and jump into the driver’s seat for the Wildcats.

The junior twins returned this season as the top two runners on Alpena’s boys team and they’ve taken on the leadership roles they’ve been preparing for since their freshman season.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot the past two years. Thinking back to freshman year, I never thought I’d be able to take this (leadership) role,” Aden said. “Now that I’m here it’s pretty straightforward. You can actually just go into it and it’s not something to think about any more.”

Impact freshmen are nothing new to Alpena’s cross country program. In 2013, Mitchell Day and Isaac Cross burst onto the scene and made the state finals in their first year. The Smiths made a similar impact two seasons ago, but after dominating in middle school races, they found they had still some work to do.

It was just really intimidating because you had Mitch, you had Isaac and Kolin Ghidoni, you had to keep up with all of them,” Josh said. “The confidence went away for a little bit and you had to try to get up to their level the first year and just improve from there.”

Aden qualified for the state finals as a freshman and turned in the fastest freshman time in Alpena’s history, crossing the line in 16:33.1. Aden’s time was also the third best among freshman at the state meet.

Both Smiths improved their times last season and helped the Wildcats qualify for the finals as a team. At the finals at Michigan International Speedway, both brothers earned all-state honors as Aden finished sixth (15:56.7) and Josh finished 22nd (16:02).

Day and Cross are both running at the collegiate level, but in two years with the Smiths, they served as important mentors and gave them the blue print for how to lead a team.

“They’ve been running with Mitch and Isaac for two years, so they know what to do and they know when to do it,” Alpena coach Joy Bullis said. “They’ve very much leaders and looked up to by the rest of the team.”

Day and Cross gave the Smiths plenty of advice on how to train, but also taught them how to handle races both physically and mentally.

“(We learned) a lot. I’ve learned a lot of different strategies in running and a lot of different tips to help with the workouts and all that,” Aden said. “Just morally too; keeping my cool and not being too cocky.”

As two of the team’s elder statesmen, the Smiths are now tasked with passing those lessons on as leaders and mentors for the Wildcats. That includes freshman Drew Seabase, who’s already earned a spot in Alpena’s varsity seven as Alpena’s third runner behind the Smiths.

“They’ve taken Drew right under their wing and (are) leading him along,” Bullis said.

With about a month left in the season before the state finals, the Smiths are aiming to position themselves and their teammates for another regional title and a return trip to MIS.

So far this season, Aden’s best time is 16:17.7 and Josh’s is 16:29.3.

Should they return to the state finals in November, the Smiths are setting their goals high. Aden, who ran a personal best 15:56 last year and Josh, who set a PR of 16:02 last season, are both aiming to finish in 15 minutes of less.

Day set Alpena’s program record as a junior with a finish of 15:13.1

“There’s always competition and you’ve always got something to motivate you to do better and we’ve just got to keep working,” Josh said.