It was almost as if David Olds had forgotten what it was like to have Ethan Finkel leading the way for the Crossroads boys cross-country team.
Finkel took third place individually in the 5-kilometer race while leading the Roadrunners to a team title in their season opener last weekend at the Brentwood Invitational, a performance that was not out of the ordinary for one of the most talented runners in the region.
But because the junior missed all of last season to recover from a stress fracture, his time of 16 minutes 43 seconds served as a reminder of the potential he and his teammates have this year.
“Having him back has been a big shot in the arm for us,” said Olds, who has helmed the program since 1986. “That was basically his first race in two years. He‚Äôs just rounding into basic shape.”
The return of Finkel has Olds hoping high for the Roadrunners, who are contending for a fifth-straight league title and a trip to the CIF state championships following the loss of two graduated seniors.
Their season continues Tuesday afternoon with the Viewpoint Invitational at Paramount Ranch in Agoura.
Two years ago, what Olds expected to be a rebuilding season turned into a memorable one as Finkel, then a freshman, guided Crossroads to the state meet.
“He came in and raised the bar for everybody,” Olds said.
The injury Finkel sustained towards the end of his freshman track and field season forced him to miss last fall‚Äôs cross-country campaign. His journey back to competitive sports shape, which started during last school year‚Äôs track season, is far from over.
“He‚Äôs basically started from ground zero,” Olds said. “He‚Äôs still finding his cross-country legs. But he‚Äôs got a lot of talent.”
And Finkel isn‚Äôt alone. As skilled as he is, Olds said, the squad‚Äôs true strength rests in its depth.
Daniel Allen, who became the Roadrunners‚Äô frontrunner in Finkel‚Äôs absence last year, is back for his final season. The senior clocked a 16:58 to place fourth at the Brentwood Invitational.
“Having those two being able to run together is a one-two punch that‚Äôs pretty dominating,” Olds said. “There aren‚Äôt too many teams in the Southern Section that can match that one-two punch.”
Crossroads‚Äô third and fourth punches, coming in the form of seniors Alex Groenendaal-Jones and Ben Fried, aren‚Äôt far behind.
Groenendaal-Jones, a talented track athlete in the 800 meters, is entering his second season of long-distance running. He finished the Brentwood Invitational in 13th place with a 17:38, dramatic improvement since the same event last year.
“He‚Äôs finally accepting cross-country into his life,” Olds said. “He‚Äôs taken it to that next level.”
Fried, meanwhile, has been a key cog in the Roadrunners‚Äô lineup since his freshman year. He ran a 17:50 to take 16th.
As for who will fill the team‚Äôs fifth scoring slot?
“There‚Äôs a pack of about five or six guys who are currently vying for that spot, and it speaks to the depth of the team,” Olds said, mentioning sophomore Ayden Georgi as a possible candidate. “There are probably 15 guys who could be in my top seven. Every year there‚Äôs somebody I don‚Äôt expect who comes out of nowhere and makes a difference.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.