The powerhouses behind Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy’s state championship track team

Nathaniel Bailey

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Craig Rupe is the head coach of the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (CVCA) boys track team. Last year, he coached them to the first team state title in school history.

If one watches him lead a workout, it’s clear he cares about his athletes. Rupe starts practice with giving them their workout, and explains why they’re doing it.

After a couple miles of warm up, the distance runners talk to each other about how beat up their legs felt from races the previous day. He listens, and as he stretches his right calf, asks with a thoughtful look if they were up to the workout he had planned. They agree to run the workout as planned.

With that, he leads the group of high schoolers to the start line, and they begin their workout together.

This season, there’s a good chance that the group of high schoolers from CVCA can defend their title.

“You know, we have a lot of the guys returning. We lost three pretty important guys from last year, but we have some really key guys returning,” Rupe said. “And just looking at the way the state meet could set up, we think we could at least be in position to compete for, you know, a top three spot or whatever. But like we do know that we’re capable of scoring about as many points as we did last year, you know, or close to it.”

One of those returning is senior Tre Tucker. Last year at the state meet, Tucker powered the CVCA team to the title, winning the 100 and long jump, anchoring the winning 4×200 relay and placing third in the 200m.

A quiet, 5’10” football player, Tucker has dreams of going into the National Football League (NFL). For context, he’s about a 10th of a second faster over 100m than current NFL prospect Paris Campbell Jr. was in high school.

He’ll be attending the University of Cincinnati next year to play wide receiver. Before that though, for his last season of track, he wants the team to he state champions once again. And he wants the state record in the 100, 200 and long jump.

They’re not far off his personal bests.

Tucker credits much of his growth as both a person and an athlete to his coaches at CVCA, particularly Rupe.

“He became head coach when I was freshman, and he’s been nothing but caring and loving. For him it’s not just about track you know. Some coaches just come out here and tell you what to do, but you know he’s more than just a track coach and I think my growth through CVCA has definitely been affected by him in my past four years here,” Tucker said.

In his past four years, Rupe has seen a lot of success as a coach. Go back a few more years to when he was an assistant, and that list of successes expands. Now in his 10th season as a coach at CVCA, he has a few highlights that stand out.

Winning back to back 4x800m titles with the same relay team, or coaching Ryan Adams to a 4:07, 1600m state record. Quite a few big achievements don’t even make his shortlist of highlights. Just to name a couple: 4th place team finish at states in 2017 and a second place team finish in 2014. Or consistently coaching relay and individual athletes to the state meet.

Rupe credits his success as a coach to a few things. Flexibility and willingness to tailor training to his athletes. The assistance he has had over the years from other coaches and a well-rounded coaching staff. The culture of the team.

Differing from most other coaches, he trains with his varsity distance runners.

“I’ve been doing that my while career and it kind of seems,” Rupe said. “Like weird to picture the day when I won’t be able to run with them anymore.”

Doing so allows him to focus on building team culture and making sure their training is perfect.

“I’m kind of a little bit of a control freak in some ways as a coach,” Rupe said. “Like I want to make sure they’re doing exactly everything. I really think that, especially this year, the group of guys I have, they’re all really good friends and I really think the highlight of a lot of their weeks is our Thursday long run we’ll do together. We just like go through and we’ll play like a trivia game or we’ll talk about sports or something like that. And it’s been really beneficial to us as a distance team this year.”

Rupe has had repeated success with CVCA on the track for years. But this year, after the state championship, expectations may be just a little bit higher.

Tucker talked about the difference at meets this year.

“I don’t think it’s put pressure on us, but it’s definitely a different feel. Because you go to the meets and everyone (is like), ‘Oh, that’s CVCA.’ (And then) they wanna come talk to us,” Tucker said. “We got these sweet jackets that have state champions, your name, your events. And everyone’s just like.. It gets uncomfortable sometimes when everyone is just staring at your team.”

And even after his all his successes, Rupe echoes that same feeling.

“You know, it’s different meets this year. People come up to, to us sometimes, but at the same time, we’re just the same old team with the same old group of, of high school kids and me as a coach just trying to do the best we can on any given day, whether that’s in practice or a meet.”

So how do they deal with that pressure?

“So right now it’s just kind of like a day by day thing, you know?” Rupe said. “But I definitely have a couple of goals. I always tell the guys like, ‘The number one goal I have is for you all to hit your season best in your last meeting. You know, I want you to PR get your personal record as your last meet. Whether that lasts meat is dual meet, whether it’s the pack, meet the district, meet the state meet, whatever. That’s the goal. And if you guys can do that, the more guys that do that on the team, the happier I am. And if we do that, then everything else will kind of fall into place.’”

So they just keep taking it day by day, training, having faith that it will fall into place.

Nathaniel Bailey is a Kent State journalism student. Contact him at [email protected]