He was disappointed because he expected more.
“It’s the culture,” Gower said. “The Walton cross country program has been a very successful one, long before I got here. These girls came in because they bought into that. They’ve helped elevate that culture with state titles a couple of years and a runner-up (finish) this year.”
For his part in continuing to grow the championship culture at Walton, Gower is the 2012 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year.
Gower said the past success of the program has given the current runners confidence — something that makes his job as a coach easier.
“They get a lot of confidence from running with each other,” he said. “They get to train with some of the best runners in the state every day. That gives them confidence when they go out to a race that they can compete at a really high level.”
Gower said that behind the success lies an effective training program, which the runners have embraced. Each athlete is given a mile quota to accomplish during the summer, based on their performance in the past. One runner may have a goal of 200 miles, while another might be aiming for 500.
Gower said it is his goal to bring 10 freshmen runners into the program each year. He understands that some upperclassmen may join or leave the team, but solid recruitment numbers are key to churning out successful teams and discovering the next Lady Raider leader.
Two of Walton’s top runners — Avery Bussjager and Sara Hardin — are sophomores, so Gower knows winning culture can continue.
“We look forward to seeing how we can develop and how we can improve every day and every year,” Gower said. “It’s not always a linear improvement with girls, but to have a nice group of them who balance each other well helps keep everyone confident and everyone working hard to get better.
“Having a nice core of young successful runners inspires the rest and shows them that they can do it, too.”
Gower said having a perennially strong team gives the girls something to strive for even when they come out for the team. They understand that, if they make the varsity team, they will have the opportunity to run for a state title.
“When you make the varsity at Walton, it means you are going to be competing for championships,” Gower said. “I think that inspires a lot of the girls in their training.”
Each spring, when the coach meets with his prospective team, he gives the runners the same speech.
“I tell them we should have enough talent and enough people that we can be on the podium every year,” Gower said. “If they put the work in, they can win state titles.
“The last couple of years, with the success we’ve had, I think they have bought into our training methods. It makes it so the next group that comes, it is like, ‘It worked for them, it can work for us,’ and they do the work the coaches put out there for them.”
And so the winning culture continues.