10/27/2017 7:27:00 AM A triumphant trio LUHS seniors look to run into the record books at state meet
Jeremy Mayo/River News
From left, Jack Garcia, Darius Diver and Kav FitzPatrick hope to lead Lakeland to a fourth consecutive top five finish in their final high school cross country meet at the WIAA Division 2 Championship.
From left, Lakeland seniors Darius Diver, Jack Garcia and Kav FitzPatrick each have times that rank in the top 15 all-time in school history.
Any high school athletic program - any athletic program in general - would love to have one of the top performers of all-time.
The Lakeland Union High School cross country team can boast three such runners right now. Kav FitzPatrick, Darius Diver and Jack Garcia all have times that rank in the top 15 in school history.
The senior trio has produced four consecutive trips to the WIAA Division 2 Championship meet, four Great Northern Conference championships, three sectional titles and the 2016 state title during their time as Thunderbirds.
Tomorrow, they compete together for the final time, hoping to add one more chapter in a book filled with records and accolades at the state meet in Wisconsin Rapids.
"Each of these guys, at any time in school history, could have been the No. 1 guy on the team," LUHS head coach Kevin FitzPatrick said. "To have three guys that could potentially finish in the top 20 at state is pretty amazing. They have a friendly rivalry, they work real hard, they're friends and so that makes my job a lot easier."
Kav FitzPatrick, of course, headlines the trio in terms of individual achievements.
This season he posted the best time in school history, 15:42, in his win at the Smiley Invitational, while also winning back-to-back Great Northern Conference titles, and became the first male in school history to win back-to-back sectional championships.
One of the things which has helped FitzPatrick's career has been training and racing with three runners on his level.
"It's definitely awesome," Kav FitzPatrick said. "At sectionals before the race I said to Darius, 'It's really you and I, so let's be the ones to kind of set the tempo for this race because we are at a different level than everyone else.' We talked to Jack too, and just said, 'Hey, try to hang with us as long as you can.' I think when we come out in our workouts and coach says we need to hit the same times, I think that's awesome for the three of us because we can switch off leads on windy days, when one of us is having a tough day, another one says, 'Hop right on my back and stay right with me for this rep.' I think we really push each other and make each other much better. I don't think I'd be where I am today without the help of these guys."
The relationship between FitzPatrick, Diver and Garcia goes beyond success and time, though.
A group which went to different elementary schools before attending Lakeland has now grown into a strong friendship, which has been aided and nurtured by running.
"The program is really awesome," Diver said. "It really brings a group of guys closer together. Running eight miles with them, you really get to know a guy running four years of track and cross country. You really don't have a choice but to put up with them. I can't even say a word without knowing what they're going to say back. It's really cool. We just have that chemistry and we know how each other is."
Diver has earned All-GNC honors three years in a row, with the last two on the first-team. He also earned second place at this year's GNC meet and at sectionals in back-to-back weeks. His time of 16:08.95 at the Hatchet Invitational this year is fifth all-time at Lakeland.
Unlike someone like Kav FitzPatrick, who comes from a family of runners, Garcia initially came out for cross country as a means to stay in shape for the swim season in the winter.
It didn't take long for him to realize he was actually a pretty good runner.
Garcia has been an All-GNC performer three years in a row and has placed in the top five at sectionals two years in a row. At the Hatchet Invite earlier this month, his time of 16:33.05 vaulted him up to No. 14 on the school's all-time leaderboard.
"Originally I just joined cross country as a sport that keeps me in shape, and then I kind of fought out that I was a pretty decent runner," Garcia said. "It's definitely a more team-oriented sport than swimming is. It's just a lot more fun the more you get to know guys and the closer you are."
With the help of FitzPatrick, Diver and Garcia, Lakeland has a strong opportunity to place in the top five at the state meet for an unprecedented fourth straight season.
The trio will leave a mark on Lakeland's program in more than just records, however.
"They're just great kids. They're good students, they're good athletes, and most importantly, they're really good people," coach FitzPatrick said. "To have them on the team at the same time keeps the culture of our team very positive. They see the hard work they've done and they see how the hard work has paid off."
Kav FitzPatrick enters the state meet as the top-ranked runner in Division 2, while Diver and Garcia both project to finish in the top 20.
Lakeland defends its state championship tomorrow at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids at 3:10 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.