I interviewed Eastview junior AJ Green, the 2018 State Champion in the 800 who came out this season for cross country, about his goals for this season and what he feels he and his team will be able to accomplish. Green has run three 5Ks this season, improving each time, and his speed and relative lack of experience with high mileage could make him a runner to watch out for on the course this season.
Maddy Lawler: I know you ran cross country in 7th and 8th grade. Why did you stop doing cross country after middle school and what made you decide to pick it back up this year?
AJ Green: I stopped doing cross country after middle school because they doubled the distance. In middle school I ran one mile, and the longest I ran was 1.5 for races, but after that it moved up to 3.1 miles, which was basically doubling the race distance. I guess I was a little bit scared because I didn't know what to expect, and I was worried it was going to be too hard. I got back into it again this year because I realized after my sophomore year of track that I really need to work on my second lap of the 800 and my endurance level. I think that by doing cross country this year, it's really going to help that second lap of the 800 and hopefully drop my time down below 1:50.
ML: You won the State title in track, just a sophomore, which was very impressive. But now that you're doing cross country, and people know your name from track, do you feel like there are certain expectations for you? And if there are, how do you deal with them?
AG: I guess there is a little bit of expectation for me, more for track, to win my races now. I don't really like to put pressure on myself because I think it makes me nervous. I don't really pay attention to any of those rankings, I just go out and run my race and hope I get first.
ML: Going along with that a little bit, as someone who's probably pretty accustomed to having a lot of success running, were you nervous coming into your first high school season of cross country, or were you confident that your talent in track would carry over well over the higher mileage? Or a little bit of both?
AG: I would say I was a little bit of both. I knew coming in that I had the speed to stay in the race, but I wasn't sure about my endurance. In summer running, all those days that they pushed me through when I didn't want to run really helped me through it and gave me confidence. I knew that if I wanted this team to be good that I was gonna have to lead and really show the commitment and work that it's going to take to get there, and as the whole team now you can see we've really done that, I think we've been ranked 10th in the state. I think that confidence from running with my team, and from us encouraging each other, that really helped me prepare for my first race. And my first race went fine, and that was a confidence booster, too.
AJ in seventh grade cross country, running alongside Chanhassen's future star Nick Scheller
ML: So you've run 16:31, 16:24, and 16:21 over your first three races. With those times you've also placed 13th, 7th, and 2nd, respectively, in some competitive fields. Those are some pretty great performances, they're all heading in the right direction, and you're just starting out. What are your season goals, both for times and any other goals you might have?
AG: For time, my goal is to run a sub-16:00. I also want to medal at State, so get in the top ten.
ML: Cross country has a team aspect that's a little more tangible than what you get in track. You talked about this a little bit, but how are the Eastview guys looking right now and do you have any team goals or things you're looking forward to?
AG: I've been pretty impressed with us so far. Our team goal is to qualify for State and try to get in the top ten. Currently I think we're ranked 11th in the Coaches Poll, but like I said we were ranked 10th and that's definitely the goal. If we just keep working like we've done for all of our hard workouts, and just keep pushing through, congratulating our teammates after a hard workout by high-fiving each other, which we always do...all of that will help. To me there's definitely something special about this team, we're so close and that's already helped us this year, because we've gone from a team no one really thought was going to do anything this year to a team that's ranked in the state.
ML: I imagine it's probably a little strange coming back to cross country after not doing it for two years, rejoining a team that's changed since you've last been on it. Is there anyone in particular on the team or off the team who has given you a lot of support in transitioning back?
AG: Definitely my coaches. My family always told me I didn't have run cross country if I didn't want to, but I really wanted to push through. And then all the guys on the team obviously, too many to name, but they've all been supportive. They wanted me to come out, because they knew I would push them and hopefully make them better as well. I think me being in practices, being in races, us pushing each other has made us all better. If we see each other doing it, not giving up, that just helps the team overall.
ML: And finally, what races do you have coming up, and are you excited for anything about them?
AG: I have Chaska coming up, and I'm really excited to compete against all the great runners I always see in the rankings. They push me to run better times and I think that's why my times have been getting better, racing all those really good guys. I definitely have to thank them for pushing me. One competitor I know is Luke Labatte, who I've been racing since seventh grade. I always look forward to running against him, I raced him last week and that was pretty fun. I also like racing Isaac Basten from Buffalo, we have a lot of respect for each other and we'll always congratulate each other after the races. The respect level that you have for guys like that is just so high. That's what all the really great runners do, is congratulate each other because they know it's just a 5K and it's so tough for everyone.