By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
Betty Doyle could barely talk. Her laryngitis simply was too overpowering. But like the runners she motivates on a daily basis, the Archbishop Wood girls’ cross-country coach persevered.
“There’s a lot to like about our team,” said Doyle, a 1975 Wood graduate who ran track throughout high school. “We’ve been consistently getting better, and that’s really important.”
Although she was not able to run cross country at Wood because the school began the program the year after she graduated, Doyle has always had an appreciation for endurance. In fact, she still runs three or four times a week to help keep in shape.
On the course, she lets her voice do the running, sometimes at the expense of her larynx.
“I do a lot of yelling,” she said with a laugh. “You try and encourage the runners to get the most out of themselves. It’s easy to want to give up. The body is hurting and it’s a long, tough course. There is pain involved, so any support you can give cross country runners is always a help.”
For the past four years, Cardinal O’Hara has dominated the Catholic League by winning each of the past four titles. This year, although still a team to reckon with, the Lions are in a rebuilding stage after being hit hard by graduation.
Formerly a force in the late ’90s, Wood hasn’t won a league title since 1997. However, if the early results of this season are an accurate harbinger, the 11-year drought might not turn 12.
In the Catholic League thus far, Wood is undefeated. The Vikings are clearly the favorite to take the Northern spanision title on Oct. 8 and might be the favorite to seize the overall league title a week later on Oct. 15. That is a change from the original plans of having the cross country championship on Oct. 18, but because Belmont Plateau is already booked for that date, the Catholic League championship was moved up.
Then again, the championship in the past used to be at the end of October. But because there is a need to accommodate the PIAA’s requirements to determine district champions, the Catholic League loses two weeks of its season.
Despite what seems to be a growing annoyance of being involved with the PIAA, Doyle has decided to take the high road.
“It’s a little tougher maybe, but I really don’t see it as a negative,” she said. “We hopefully will peak at the right time.”
In both league and invitational meets, the Vikings have remained extremely consistent. Their top three runners have been a mix of sophomore Kiersten Brown, sophomore Kate Boligitz and junior Maura Craney. Their next two have been senior captains Jackie Dougherty and Kelly Young, the only two upperclassmen on the 20-runner roster.
“We have those top three, a little bit of a gap, and then our seniors,” said Doyle, referring to Wood’s top five scorers, the only finishers that account for points in cross country (the team’s sixth-place finisher is used for a tie-breaker). “It’s been pretty amazing.”
Doyle lauded her two seniors for their leadership.
“They take that role seriously,” said Doyle, who also coaches the boys’ team at Wood and is assisted in both programs by Fran McLaughlin. “They are both talented runners, and they realize that our four and five are just as important as our one through three.”
When Doyle took over the program last year, she felt a responsibility to follow in the footsteps of former longtime coach John Sharp, who died five years ago.
“You talk about having large shoes to fill,” said Doyle. “We vowed to continue to uphold the traditions that John started. We still have prayer services. We recognize the spirituality in our symbols – the flag, the cross and the sword. We are abiding by what he started many years ago.”
In both word and deed, even if the words are spoken with a bout of laryngitis.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.