As a sophomore, Basil Mathes decided to join the Monticello High School cross country team at the request of a friend after having a great spring outdoor season his freshman year.
“I got into it because I ran outdoor track well my freshman year and it was just a matter of just doing cross country the next year,” Mathes said. “Growing up, I played a few seasons of baseball and basketball, but mostly football. I also did a few random local races when I was younger, but never for a team.’
It didn’t take long for Mathes to become one of the best running backs in Virginia. Monticello Jr. is currently the top ranked boys Ragged Mountain Cross Country Polla position he has held since the start of the season.
“I really like cross country and distance running because it’s easy,” Mathes said. “It’s not as difficult as improving in sports. What you put into it is what you get out and I love improving and seeing my progress. It’s very useful.”
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In his first season as a cross country runner in the fall of 2021, Mathes medaled at the Region 3C meet and followed that up with a ninth-place finish (16:39.10) at the VHSL Class 3 state meet.
Not bad for someone who didn’t compete on a team until high school.
“My first time racing for a real team was my freshman year during the outdoor season,” Mathes said. “I was 15 years old and I ran 5:11 in the 1,600 meters. I was really happy with that performance because I had no idea I was going to run and I realized it’s fun and I want to get better.”
During the indoor track season, Matthes finished third in the 3,200 (9:48.70) and fifth in the 1,600 (4:32.29) at the VHSL Class 3 state meet.
The Monticello standout took his game to the next level last spring when he won the state championship in the 3,200m (9:19.54) at the VHSL Class 3 meet at Liberty University. He also finished third in the 1,600 (4:43.56).
Last summer, Mathes improved his training regimen with former Monticello standout and current assistant coach Nathaniel Hermsmeyer. That extra work has paid dividends this fall for Mathes, who has emerged as one of the top running backs in Central Virginia.
Last month, he posted an individual best time (9:56.10) at the prestigious two-mile Ragged Mountain Cup Relay at Panorama Farms, the official starting point for the fall cross country season.
That strong form continued recently when Mathes set a new Monticello program record at the VTCA Cross Country Invitational at Panorama Farms. The junior ran the 3.1-mile course in 15:34, breaking the school mark set by Hermmeyer, who went on to run at Virginia and William & Mary.
Breaking the school’s assistant coaching record was extremely special for Mathes.
“The school record means a lot to me,” Mathes said. — Coach Hermsmeier was a record holder before me, and I, having broken his record, may be more special for him. I am also pleased to be the first in the ranking and to be recognized for my success. He’s been a huge influence on my running career because he trains with me and he’s very smart and knowledgeable. Without him, I wouldn’t be running as well as I am now.”
Racing at Panorama Farms is special to Mathes.
“It’s not the fastest track in our season, but it’s definitely a PR course,” he said. “Just recently I was PRing there, even after running at Knights Crossing, which is on a very fast course. Also, Panorama has a lot of history in Albemarle County, and even though it’s not technically my home track, whenever teams from outside the area come to race there, I like to try to defend what feels like home turf to me.”
Monticello cross country coach Doug Bloor continues to be amazed by his young star runner.
“Obviously, Basil is just a talented runner, but what impresses me the most is what he does when the coaches aren’t looking or aren’t around,” he said. “Because he runs a little further than most, he will do his core/strength work at home. To build up his weekly miles, he will run in the mornings. He just loves sports. He’s incredibly skilled at running events, but he also knows what it takes to run fast. He knows the science behind it all.’
One of the traits that sets Mates apart from most of his competition is his versatile running style. Whether it’s blasting past runners at the end of the race with a hard kick or strategizing his way through the middle of the race, Monticello can get ahead of his opponents in a variety of ways.
Mathes said that normally a happy kid, when it comes time to race, his mindset changes.
“Before the race and at the starting line, I try to be stoic and focused,” he said. “I don’t show emotion, I don’t joke with my teammates anymore, and in general, I’m dialed in. Before I shoot, I think about the pain I will have to go through and tell myself to accept it and enjoy the pain.”
During the competition, Mates tries to think positively and stay calm during the race.
“The worst thing about racing is when you start doubting yourself and thinking negatively,” Mathes said. “It causes panic. Instead, during the race, I try to enjoy the pain and the competition. There are times when I want to quit, and I remind myself that the pain of quitting will be much greater than the pain I’m going through.’
That razor-sharp focus is helping Mathes as he sets his sights high this season. His first distance goal is to break nine minutes in the 3200, both indoors and outdoors. In addition, he would like to finish 10th or better at the South Region meet to qualify for the Eastbay Nationals in San Diego.
“One of the most important characteristics a runner, or anyone else, can have is a strong fire and drive to achieve something in life,” Matthes said. – This is what, in my opinion, is the basis of any successful person. The ideal runner would be someone with incredible talent, a strong mind, a willingness to get things done, and a hard-working mindset.”
Bloor said Mathes’ running ability is evident during every race.
“Basil is an extremely skilled runner,” Bloor said. “He’s learning these things and clearly just loves to run. But he’s also willing to take a day off to play Frisbee with his team, so he balances his individual needs as a runner with the needs of his team.”
Mathes, who plays sports, said one of the runners he admires is Dutton Ritzenhein, the former American record holder in the 5,000 meters and three-time national cross country champion.
“He’s retired now, but I always liked his attitude,” Mathes said. “He’s very strong in the head and I like the way he trains and races.”
If he could run with any distance runner, Matthes would choose former U.S. Olympian Jim Ryan, who became the first high school athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile in 1964.
“I just wish I could see how people trained and ran back then,” Mathes said.
Junior loves competition, regardless of the sport or activity. He enjoys all sports, including basketball, soccer, ultimate frisbee and badminton. He is also a big fan of strategy games, be it video games or board games.
With pre-season racing on the horizon, Mathes is gearing up to challenge for the championship.
“I like the fact that I’m at the point now where I’m a statewide threat in pretty much any race,” he said. “This is a very recent thing. I wasn’t at this level last year and I’m looking forward to competing against some of the best runners in the state. I am far from a national level runner at this point, but that is certainly the goal. It’s been special for me to be at that level in my sport, where people who don’t run at all know who I am.”