WILTON, Iowa – During a year when Brad Bockwoldt went from starting his first season as the Wilton junior high cross country coach to becoming the high school coach two weeks later, Buddy Darting has provided him with something he’s been able to rely on every meet: a consistent performance.
The sophomore, now heading into his second straight state cross country meet this Saturday in Fort Dodge, hasn’t finished worse than seventh in 11 meets this season. And that seventh-place finish at the Jim Hetrick Invitational on Oct. 5 was a bit of an outlier.
While his opponents often focus on catching other runners, in races he’s won this season, it hasn’t been uncommon to see Darting turning his attention to the motorized gator that guides the pack through the course.
“Start fast and follow the gator as close as I can” has become a common strategy for Darting this fall, and it’s led to four titles, one second place, three third places, a fourth place and a fifth place.
The times have been equally impressive, as Darting has finished in the 17s in every meet but the Tipton Invitational on Sept. 5, when he crossed the finish line in 16 minutes, 50 seconds.
With a year of experience heading into the season, the sophomore has developed a sharper mentality. Instead of running his race until the final 400 meters or 200 meters and then finishing as fast as he can while trying to pass as many runners possible, he’s using that energy at the beginning of races, going out stronger and staying at the top.
“(Darting’s) trying to stay either in the lead of the pack or in the top of the pack somewhere for that whole race rather than having to rely on a sprint right at the end to get into the top of the pack,” Bockwoldt said. “He’s doing much better in terms of his understanding of running.”
Darting’s growth has arrived in spite of running for three different head coaches since last year’s state meet, where he finished 26th in 17:28.
Bockwoldt took on the head coaching position in early September after Cory Garvin stepped away due to troubles with the re-certification process.
“There were issues with coach Garvin's re-certification through the state, the state was delayed in that issue, so he didn't feel comfortable going forward anymore as the head coach. ... (Coaching high school) is a different mindset, I know that for sure," Bockwoldt said. "Coming in at the start of the school year and I was two weeks in at junior high, that’s a little more laid back. There’s no pressure in terms of you’re just trying to get them interested in the sport of cross country and try and keep them interested in it.
“Then when you slide into the high school head coaching program you have all the scheduling, the bus times, so everything that is behind the scenes is on your plate as well. The first three nights I know I didn’t sleep very much.”
Bockwoldt was still familiar with Darting, however, after serving as one of his coaches during last spring’s track season.
“Talking to (Darting) in the spring for track when we went to the state meet, he got his eyes opened a little bit in terms of OK, I was the only freshman out there in the mile and two-mile for Class 2A,” Bockwoldt said. “And so he kind of saw what it was going to take for him to compete at that level in terms of track.
“He’s kind of had a different mentality, and he’s changed his focus a little bit in terms of cross country, so he’s been able to adjust.”
Most recently, Darting punched his ticket to the state cross country meet with a fifth-place finish at the Class 1A state qualifier in Solon, when he ran his second fastest time of the season (17:05).
He’ll now get a chance to cap off a successful sophomore campaign Saturday in Fort Dodge.
“It’s a lot faster pace throughout the race,” Darting said about competing in the state meet. “It’s harder to stick up front. I’m going to get out a lot faster than I did last year. Last year I went really slow and just built up to a faster pace. … The main focus (Saturday) is to get top 15.”