It’s lunchtime at Boston Latin Academy, meaning the cafeteria is cluttered with hungry students rushing to find a seat and converse with their friends. In the mist of the social scene, one group of athletes is heading in the opposite direction -- back to the classrooms to find their coach.
The LA track team won’t go over strategies or have pep-talks for their upcoming events, but are rather just improving their team chemistry, a chemistry that has resulted in back-to-back city championships in indoor and outdoor events for both the girls and boys teams.
“I have a whole track group come to my room at lunch,” said coach Brian Leussler, who added that it is acts like these that create a light-hearted environment, plus a competitive attitude, that add up to a successful track season.
Leussler must know what he’s talking about, given his coaching style has not only attracted numerous amounts of high school students but also LA middle school students.
“We’re much more than a track team,” said freshman runner Ashley Lewis. “Track is our place to come together. The relationship we have makes track much more enjoyable.”
Lewis has been present for both of LA’s city championships, including when the girls team beat defending champion O’Bryant in the 2010-11 season. She was just a seventh grader at the time.
“It was so mind-boggling,” said Lewis, who is preparing for this year's indoor city championships Feb. 4-5. “We we’re so excited that we made history for BLA.”
While Lewis may not believe it, Leussler believes students like her that start the sport in middle school play a huge factor in the team’s success.
“We approach it as a fun thing,” said sophomore Xazier Hill when asked about his transition to the team in middle school. “We believe if you make it fun, people will perform well. Some people don’t perform well under pressure.”
He added that while Leussler’s coaching style is great for attracting young talent, starting at a young age would mean nothing without guidance from upperclassman.
“Upperclassmen take us under their wing and teach us things the coach can’t,” Hill said. The sophomore relayed how former LA track star Tucker Gye mentored Hill on his long jumping when he first came to the team as a seventh grader. He credits that mentoring to his winning the Most Improved Player award last season.
“The fact that there are so many mentors pushing us makes it better,” Hill said.
One of those mentors is junior co-captain Malik Anderson. While Anderson’s list of accomplishments runs long, the state-meet qualifier still believes that helping out his teammates is priority number one.
“If you help someone out on the team, you’re helping yourself because you see things you’re doing wrong,” said the co-captain. “Even if you have school work or family problems the team will be there for you.”
It is this type of family first mentality that the Dragons said allowed Leussler to snap O’Bryant’s 18-year streak of winning the city championship. Leussler didn’t deny that seeing a team win all those years can spark a bit of a rivalry.
“It’s been a friendly but competitive nature between me and coach [Jose] Ortega for about the last 10 years,” Leussler said.
Despite LA's success, the consensus among the Dragons is that an LA repeat does not equate to satisfaction among the team.
“It’s a lot of pressure because we have people looking up to you," senior captain June Yao said. “After we win, we just get to a place where we want to keep winning.”
That hunger is what keeps the Dragons going back to their coach’s office while other’s socialize, maintaining their connection with each other and continuously improving their team chemistry, all in an effort to win a third city title.
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.