McCullen, Cougars Building on winning Legacy

McCullen, Cougars Building on winning Legacy

Oakton, led by senior running sensation, has its eyes on another big postseason.

Andrew McCullen is proud of the prolific running tradition of the Oakton High boys’ cross country program that he is a part of. That winning legacy, in fact, is a huge motivator for the senior standout to help the Cougars continue to excel and to remain both a Northern Region and state power.

“I don’t think we’ve lost a [Concorde] District title in four years and we’ve made states 11 or 12 years in a row,” said McCullen, of the success over recent years of the Oakton team. “It’s real important for us to keep that streak alive. Each year guys come out knowing they’re on a team that’s real good.”

Oakton, the defending district, region and state AAA champion, is in prime midseason form and looking forward to the upcoming postseason races where the Cougars, once again, are hoping and even expecting to be a force. Last Saturday, they certainly showed good form with a stellar showing at the Wendys Invitational in Charlotte, N.C. The annual showcase event attracted over 50 schools.

The Oakton boys (128 points), competing in the highly competitive Invitational portion of the meet, finished second in the team standings among a field of 32 teams. West Johnson High (113) was the team champion. Chapel Hill High (148) was third. Oakton was the lone team from Northern Virginia in the race.

McCullen took second place overall among 219 runners, finishing with a time of 15 minutes, 18 seconds in the 5,000-meters race that was held on the McAlpine Greenway Park course. (McAlpine Greenway Park is the home site of the renowned Foot Locker South Region Championships held in late November). Other good races for Oakton came from seniors Patrick Fulghum (9th overall), Matt Woodhouse (15th) and Padraic Flynn (36th).

Oakton, which won the Wendys team title last year, nearly won again on Saturday despite being a different team makeup wise this fall.

“We’re a different team than we were last year,” said McCullen, of the Cougars’ graduation losses from last year’s Virginia state championship squad that have resulted in a somewhat different look to the team. “But we believe we have a shot at winning [another state title] again this year.”

McCullen and his teammates also ran exceptionally well at the recent Oatlands Invitational event in Leesburg on Sept. 26. The Cougars won the varsity `A’ race with 143 points, ahead of second place Mountain View of Stafford (157). Oatlands, with 50-plus schools and 3,000 athletes participating, is one of Virginia’s biggest and most popular regular season high school events.

McCullen, in the individual results at Oatlands, finished second at 15:53, just behind winner Cody Pelliccioni (15:49) of Morgantown High. Other Cougars to run well at Oatlands included Fulghum (17th), Woodhouse (25th) and Flynn (30th).

McCullen is impressed with the way the Cougars are running and competing at this juncture of the season.

“I think we’re on pace to have another big season,” he said. “Our guys are really running well and our back of the pack guys are running together. We all had awesome races [at Oatlands]. I think most of us had our best times of the season. We ran real hard in a hard race on a good course. It was a real confidence boost to the team.”

<b>OAKTON COACH PHIL TILLER</b>, in his ninth season at the helm of the program, said McCullen is right up there with the best runners he has ever coached at the school – athletes such as Jacob Frey (1998 state champion and a one-time Olympics marathon trials qualifier); Matt Maline, a 2000 Oakton graduate who ran in the shadows of the great Alan Webb of South Lakes; and, more recently, Joe LoRusso (2008 graduate), a dominant runner and two-time state track champion in both the mile and two mile runs.

“He really embodies sort of the history of Oakton and the team over the last decade-plus,” said Tiller, of McCullen. “He’s part of a series of [Oakton standouts of the past] who, year after year, are dedicated to running up front and dictating the race.”

McCullen, Oakton’s No. 1 runner both this year and last year, is passionate about his sport.

“He’s extremely dedicated and a real student of the sport,” said Tiller. “He’s very good at doing the little things that make a runner great, like stretching and resting. He does the behind the scenes things to work to keep himself strong. He put in all the hard work last summer. He’s smart about his training and knows how to prepare for things.”

Two years ago as a sophomore, McCullen was injured at the district championships, ending his season. But he came back strong last year with a third place finish at regionals and a seventh place finish at states.

“He’s definitely had his ups and downs, which makes this year [and his current success] so great,” said Tiller, who has led Oakton to three region crowns over the past four years and state titles in both 2005 and ’08. “He has a lot of ability and his goals are set high this year. He really runs for his team and believes in his teammates. He’s much like a coach. He sees potential in the young guys and helps kids believe in themselves. He’s an excellent team captain and embodies what I am looking for in a runner.”

McCullen would love to compete as a Div. 1 college runner one day and said he is still in the decision-making process in regards to colleges. For now, he is enjoying high school and running for the Cougars.

“I’ve really enjoyed the guys on this team and especially coach Tiller,” he said.