Over the past decade, no team has dominated their state like Albuquerque Academy, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Numerous track and cross country titles have been won, while expectations continue to be high. After an eighth place finish at Nike Team Nationals in '06, the Red Army is ready to roll once again.
The leader of AA is Adam Kedge. Coaching for over a decade now, Kedge and his assistants have built AA into a national power. With 60+ kids, a long term vision for each one of them, and a great training environment, Albuquerque Academy is set up for success.
MileSplit (MS): Albuquerque Academy opens the season ranked as the number three team in the country. With obvious expectations to win a state title, and make a push for the NTN title, what are your thoughts entering the season? What are the team's goals?
Adam Kedge (AK): It's quite a honor to be ranked third in the country, and I have great respect for Marc Bloom and his contributions to our sport. #3 - wow! I never dreamed of all this. It was just ten years ago where my goal was to prove I could coach a team to a state title. Very cool, but it's all just a dream I'm living. To think that there are only two teams in the country better than my Chargers, is not something I'm convinced of just yet.
Reality is that last year we ended up seventh at NTN. That is what we were last year. This fall, on the eve of our first meet, we are 0 and 0 [ed. note., AA won their first invitational of the year, beating US #8 Los Alamos]. We start with a clean slate and hopefully we can start taking some names as soon as tomorrow morning. We still have to earn our way like everyone else.
Our goals for the fall of 2007 are really no different than they were ten years ago today. High school athletics is about the quest for a state title. That is numero uno in my book. Sure we'd all love to be standing on the podium come December, but we have a long journey ahead of us, and lots of work to be done between now and then. First things first, we're preparing for state, November 10.
MS: What athletes make up your projected top seven right now?
Benjo (Ben Johnson, Sr.) is our clear #1 - 9:16, 4:16 (all listed track times are at 5,000+ feet elevation), second at NTN, sixth at Foot Locker
Kyle Cooper (Sr.) - 10:02, 4:34 and 48th at NTN
Pat Zacharias (So.) - no track experience, 72nd at NTN
Damon Campbell (Jr.) - 10:10, 4:38, 129th at NTN
Taylor Murray (Jr.) - 1:58, 4:29, 56th at NTN
Anthony Lauriello (Jr.) - 10:27, NTN alternate
David Feddema (So.) - 10:15
Ryan Clark (So.) - 10:30
MS: Your summer training I hear is pretty intense. Can you take us through a week in the life of Albuquerque Academy?
AK: We have kids of all ability in our program, so a week during the summer could be anywhere from 10 miles a week up to 50-60 miles for our upper group. That's at altitude, through the hills. During the summer, we meet three nights a week and those upper level kids will run between seven and twelve miles an outing. The rest of the time they are on their own. I have the best kids in the world, so my kids do as they are asked on days we don't meet. Besides, having a successful team with a tradition of excellence really motivates kids to run often.
A regular week at Academy, whether it is early season or late, consists of an intense VO2 max session, a long run, and some six to seven milers in between each workout. We don't do anything much different than a lot of programs around the country. What we try and do is be more consistent at doing it. I encourage my kids to run 20 of every 21 days, and to run often during the off-season. My upper level kids run 10.5 to 11 months a year.
MS: With high expectations for NTN this year, will training be changed at all during the season to perhaps create a better peak for NTN?
AK: We may tweak a few things late in the season, but not too much. We need to work at getting one step ahead of the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, currently #8 in the U.S., at state. We have our hands full with them, and they always give us fits late in the year. If we don't take care of business here at home, in December we'll likely be sitting on the couch watching cartoons and eating corn flakes, while the Hilltoppers are having the time of their lives playing in the mud (of NTN).
We seemed to hit it pretty close to dead last year at NTN. So, if we make it that far, we'll prepare much like we did in 2006.
MS: You have a potential Foot Locker champion on your team in Ben Johnson. How is Ben training right now, and what are the goals for him this season?
I do know one thing...no matter how talented and hard working Ben is, he cannot achieve anything without staying healthy. When you coach a thoroughbred like Ben, you better have your hand on the reins instead of the whip. I have a responsibility to Ben to make sure he does not overdo things.
MS: When doing an interview with Rob and Kathy Hipwood of Los Alamos, they said they had a great friendship with you. How did the friendship come about, and how is your relationship with the Hipwoods during the season when your AA team is a deep rival with Los Alamos?
AK: In high school, Rob and I went to rival schools. I say rival schools, but in reality his school was my schools rival and my old high school (not Academy) was his schools punching bag. Not much different than how it was between Rob and I in races I guess. I'm glad it is our teams that are racing now instead of the two of us. I've seen too much of that skinny rear end up in the distance. After college, Rob and I both became coaches, him at his old school and me in paradise here at Academy. So, ten or twelve years ago, we were both young-buck coaches trying to make a name for ourselves. We pretty much broke onto the high school coaching scene at the same time. We shared stories and became good friends.
I have so much respect for Rob, and his wonderful wife Kathy. They are two of the best coaches in the country. Part of my drive to be successful as a coach is so I can keep up with the two of them.
The great story behind it all is that every one of our kids knows our friendship and it carries over to the two squads. The squads get along with each other, respect each other, yet still want to beat the pants off each other. Every kid will fight tooth and nail for every point during the race, then congratulate their rival with a sincere, heartfelt handshake. It is a wonderful example of sportsmanship, on display for the rest of the state to witness.
MS: Albuquerque seems to have a great athletic atmosphere. Does this perception hold true?
AK: High school sports in New Mexico are no different than in a lot of states. People still feel that basketball and football are king. I'd like to think we are changing that some. With 61 boys on our cross country team, I know we are changing it at our school. Our city does have most every factor conducive to building a successful distance runner available to us. Clear skies, cool mornings, open spaces, and altitude, all make Albuquerque a great place to train. Because of those factors, we do see Olympians, World Record holders and World Champions on a regular basis. We're a poor-mans Boulder (Colorado).
MS: What type of extra work does the team do outside of running?
AK: We have a unique circuit routine that incorporates aspects of basic calisthenics, ab work, and low intensity plyometrics. It is unique because it has no set stations or time limits at different activites. It is completely continuous, and completely random. We went to this system when our numbers outgrew the weight room. We call them our Army Ants because the kids look like a huge group of red ants, that have an organized chaos to their work. It is one of the signatures of our program. It does not take a lot of time, and can be implemented with kids that have a wide range of physical maturity. The level of difficulty can be adjusted on the fly, so it fits every one of our kids.
MS: Albuquerque Academy has been a dominant force for the past decade. Wieth eight of the last nine state titles in cross country, and the last six straight state titles in track, what creates this type of continued success?
AK: The answer to this question is easy, and I don't know why more coaches don't do it. It is very basic, but often overlooked. We place a huge amount of value on our youth. My assistants and I spend a good portion of our time developing our younger kids. We say we have two groups on our team, the "big dogs" and the "soon to be big dogs." Our big dogs get our undivided attention come state and NTN. The rest of the year we work equally with every kid, despite ability. With Benjo (Ben Johnson) in the fold, it is likely I have my state champion for this fall. With three or four good underclassman, I may be set for a couple of years. So I dedicate a good portion of my time working with the soon to be big dogs. I'm constantly combing the halls of the school to find some freshman that can win a title two or three years down the road. I've got to find him, get him out for the team, convince him that he can do something he's never even dreamed of, and then I have to train him to win it all.