Scouting Report: Walt Whitman

Scouting report interview with Walt Whitman head cross country coach Stephen Hays. This year's squads could be one of the best in recent years on both sides and very competitive in Montgomery County and the 4A classification. Two non-seniors lead their team as well in junior Aaron Bratt (15:37 5K) for the boys and sophomore Paula Bathalon (19:20) for the girls. Only one senior projects to be among the top 7 among their two varsity lineups as well, so not only 2017, but the 2018 season could even better for young and talented Walt Whitman cross country teams.  

Top 7 Boys Returnees (Full Team Scores Rankings)

7Walt Whitman High School (MD)510
1) Aaron Bratt15:37.002
2) Joshua Engels16:27.5326
3) Obi Onwuamaegbu17:04.0099
4) Michael Murphy17:23.00150
5) Ben Rumsfeld17:42.00233
Average Time: 16:50.71 Total Time: 1:24:13.53 1-5 Split: 2:05.00
6) Andreas Christofides17:48.00256
7) Kai Jacobs17:51.00274

Top 7 Girls Returnees (Full Team Scores Rankings)

8Walt Whitman High School (MD)396
1) Paula Bathalon19:20.0016
2) Breanna Mcdonald20:14.1866
3) Julia Johnson20:20.7376
4) Alicia Lauwers20:24.5781
5) Madeleine Blaisdell21:08.00157
Average Time: 20:17.50 Total Time: 1:41:27.48 1-5 Split: 1:48.00
6) Elizabeth Sklaire21:15.28170
7) Shanthi Ashley21:16.02174

Q&A Interview with Coach Hays (Walt Whitman)

How many years have you been coaching high school cross country (and at your current school)?

17 years, all at Whitman. 

What do you attribute as the main reasons for the success of your program?

The kids are willing to work hard and they believe in their teammates and the coaching staff. 

What would be the best way to describe your style and philosophy of coaching and working with high school runners?

My coaching mentor is Joe Vigil, I have had the opportunity to spend several different weeks with him and pick his brain.  I strongly recommend going to see him speak if you get the chance.  He tells great stories.  I was at the Olympic Training Center with Coach in 2013 watching Brenda Martinez win Bronze at the World Championships.  His philosophy is to do the same workout over a period of 6 weeks but decreases the recovery between intervals.  The body adapts to the increase stress.  He also encourages an active recovery as opposed to a rest. 

What are your core beliefs in your training plan and workouts for your cross country squads?

We try to progress slowly and encourage athletes to build up their mileage over the summer (the bigger the base, the higher the pyramid).  We then work into short hills to work on Running Economy and get them prepared for the harder part of the season.  During the hardest part of the season we focus on VO2 max training and Lactic Threshold training.

 How many runners do you return from your top 7 from a year ago?

Both teams return 5 of 7.

Who is your projected top 7 heading into the cross country season?


Paula Bathalon 10

Jenan El-Hifnawi 12

Julia Johnson 11

Breanna McDonald 11

Alicia Lauwers 10

Elizabeth Sklaire 10

Madeleine Blaisdell 10


Aaron Bratt 11

Obi Onwuanaegbu 11

Michael Murphy 11

Dalton Yu 11

Ben Lesser 10

Greg Garner 9

Ben Rumsfeld 11

Who are your team captains or leaders and what stands out about them as examples for the rest of their teammates?

Our team captains are Jenan El-Hifnawi (SR) and Breanna McDonald (JR) for the girls and Josh Engels (SR) and Obi Onwuamaegbu (JR).  The lead by example by working hard and putting in the miles.  I'm excited to work with these dedicated runners this year.

Who have you been most impressed or surprised with their improvement and/or fitness from their summer training?

I would definitely have to say I am very impressed with Jenan El-Hifnawi's summer training.  She had worked so hard over the summer and I think is going to have a breakout season.  Just a great kid! 

Any impactful freshmen or transfers to join the team this season?

For the Boys we have Greg Garner and Beck O'Brien who have been running for Pyle and BTC the last several years and have really bought into our program.  I'm excited to see what they can do.  For the Girls I think Nadia Lanz (also a Pyle and BTC graduate) will have an impact.  We don't often get a lot of transfers but I'm excited to find out how Siena Smith, a sophomore from Florida, will do for us.  She ran a 2:31 as an 8th grader but didn't run track last year.  She is very motivated and I think will help the team in years to come.

What are the top invitational meets that your team will be attending this season?

We plan to compete at Oatlands and Manhattan again this year and return to Great American after missing it for a few years.  We're excited to go up against some great competition.

What will be the biggest obstacle or challenge facing your team this season?

The biggest obstacle is always to stay healthy and keep everyone working hard.  I'm lucky that I have great captains and, new this year, a team council that includes:  Aaron Bratt (JR), Julia Johnson (JR), Jasmine Shakir (SR), Ben Rumsfeld (JR), and Dalton Yu (JR).  These are five of the hardest working athletes and will help keep everyone motivated.

What will be the biggest reason why your team is successful this season?

We'll have to stay healthy.  Though we have some depth, it will be important that our top runners stay healthy.  Another important component of our success is tradition.  The leaders of the team help to pass along our traditions to the younger runners.

What is a favorite annual or common pre-season workout or run for your team?

Hill repeats.  We increase by two each week and go with a short rest.  It's a great workout.

What is a favorite annual or common mid-season workout for your team?

1000's m repeats on a hill with 3 min. recovery. 

What is a favorite annual or common championship season or end-of-season workout for your team?

Mile repeats on rolling hills at Lactate Threshold

What are your top 3 goals for this year's squad?

Our main goals are the same every year . . . have fun, become a family, make it to states.  WWXC-4-Life!