Dynasties are typically measured by wins and championships.
Carlisle's track and field and cross country teams are in the midst of a slightly different type of dynasty.
While the Thundering Herd have won division and District 3 championships, and a 2017 PIAA boys team title (just the school’s fifth state title in any team sport, and the only one outside boys basketball) in recent years, they have also gone on a different sort of run.
Fifteen Carlisle runners, jumpers or throwers committed to NCAA Division I programs since 2015. Two more — Jack Wisner (Pitt) and Meg Lebo (South Carolina) — will join the ranks in the coming months, but not until the Thundering Herd take aim at more medals during this week's District 3 Track and Field Championships and next week's PIAA Championships. From 2015 to the current recruiting class of 2019, there are 26 Herd athletes who have committed to college programs.
The Thundering Herd are one of the Mid-Penn Conference's best programs at sending athletes onto the next level during that stretch.
"We’ve had a good run, that’s for sure," said the man who has helped develop those two dozen athletes, head coach Ed Boardman.
All in the coaching
Boardman runs right alongside his distance runners at practice, chatting with them during and after as they jog around town.
He is a distance runner. It’s what he knows best. So he relies on his coaching staff to handle the sprinters, hurdlers, throwers and jumpers during practice.
“Really good coaches,” Boardman said when asked what the key to their success has been. “We’ve had turnover, but it’s never been whoosh [all at once].”
His current staff includes Xaviera Eastham (throws coach, fifth year), former James Buchanan head coach Rod Helfrick (jumps, 11th year), Tommy Palmer (sprints coach, 15th year), Joe Wilson (throws coach, fourth year), former Mechanicsburg cross country head coach Mary Hey (distance coach, first year), Tyler Chandler (sprints coach, second year), former Big Spring head coach Roger Young (pole vault coach, second year), Harold Travis (meet management, first year) Sean Collins (volunteer hurdles coach, first year) and Luther Green (volunteer relays coach, first year).
“It’s neat right now,” Boardman said. “I have one coach on staff, Tyler Chandler, and one who’s volunteering, Sean Collins, who both were participants for me. Sean is a three-time team captain, and having him this year has been a godsend.”
It’s a diverse group that collectively makes a strong unit. Boardman is not hands-off with the rest of the team, but he has surrounded himself with people who can lead other athletes when he’s focused elsewhere.
“Boardman and the rest of the coaching staff really work together well. They communicate a lot,” said Dickinson College commit and senior sprinter/hurdler Cole Boback. “Even though Boardman’s a distance coach, he still knows what I’m doing and encourages me to get better and stuff.”
The biggest hurdle
Even with that abundance of talent at the varsity level, Carlisle lacks a middle school track and field program.
Boardman knows the varsity squads start behind the 8-ball every year. Cumberland Valley, Chambersburg and other large schools in the Mid-Penn Conference and District 3 have middle school programs. The Herd have a middle school cross country team, but that’s it.
“It’s kind of a source of pride, and it’s also a sore subject," Boardman said. "Like, why on earth don’t we have a middle school program?”
He said they get a few high school freshman who sign up for track and field, especially in the field events, but it's not until sophomore year that newer athletes join for the first time.
The varsity program does its best to recruit future athletes in Lamberton and Wilson middle schools every year.
“Whenever I was in middle school, all the high schoolers would come in for lunch one period and they’d bribe us with candy to try and run,” said Lebo, a senior distance runner.
“They try to make sure we know about how good we are and they’re like, ‘You guys are the future,’” said senior Meg Tate, a runner and soccer player committed to Dickinson.
The middle school cross country team travels to the PIAA championships to watch the varsity runners as well.
Carlisle has produced college-caliber athletes in field events, but Boardman said throws, hurdles and pole vault are consistently behind the competition in the first few years due to lack of a middle school program.
It is not ideal. But it is an immense source of pride for athletes when they beat bigger schools with better facilities or better middle school programs — the Herd girls went undefeated in division play this season and look like medal contenders in the relays, distance races and in team standings.
“If we had just the volume that other schools had, just statistically and proportionally, how many more athletes we would produce — it’s just insane,” said Wisner, the boys' top distance runner.
Culture of excellence
The coaching staff has developed a culture that entices new athletes, even sophomores, to join the teams and embrace the challenge of living up to Carlisle standards.
It’s that combination — coaches and culture — that continues to produce success in Boardman’s 11th year.
“Mainly the coaching staff, I think,” Boback said when asked what’s been the key in producing so many college athletes. “Also, since there have been good athletes at Carlisle, that makes the next generation want to be as good as them and keep improving.”
“It’s just everyone following each other’s footsteps,” Wisner said. “I think trying to one-up each other. It looks really good to go to college, obviously. New runners want to always strive for that, strive for more.”
Wisner also said even today’s best athletes might be “still pretty low on the list in total Carlisle for all-time” because the records held by prior athletes are tough to beat. But it just makes the bar that much higher.
“Since we’ve turned out so many people, it’s almost like an expectation: 'Oh, we sent three D-I athletes last year, gotta send out three or more,’” Lebo said.
The Class of 2019 includes Lebo, Tate, Marlise Newson (Hood College for track and girls basketball), Boback and Wisner — two D-I and three D-III athletes.
There will surely be more in 2020 and beyond — including Sophia Toti, who already looks like the face of the junior class.
The distance runner took over for an injured Lebo during cross country season as the team’s top runner, developing quickly during the season into a medal contender. This track season, her second at Carlisle since transferring in through the War College, she has set the Carlisle girls record in the 1600 (4:54.36) and 3200 (10:57.41).
The dynasty continues.
Editor's notes: This story has been updated to include Bryanna Youtzy as a 2015 Division I commit, and to correct the time frame to 2015-2019. The Sentinel did not have a signing day record of her and regrets the omission. The story has also been updated with the current coaching staff. The original story used the team's school website, which was not updated prior to the 2018-19 season. The Sentinel regrets these mistakes.