After Columbus North lost the top four runners from its 2011 state championship boys cross-country team, Karson Tays knew he had to become a leader.
The senior did that both on and off the course. He was the Bull Dogs’ No. 1 runner in all but one meet this season and won conference, sectional and regional titles, leading the Bull Dogs to team championships in those meets.
“At practice, there are a lot of people that maybe notice you a little bit more than if you’re the No. 5 guy,” said Tays, this year’s The Republic Athlete of the Year for Boys Cross-Country. “Leading such a good group of guys and a good team felt really good. It was definitely a change, but it didn’t really seem too different because I was still running with a lot of the same people that I ran with last year.”
“Karson made the leap from a scorer to a leader as well as anybody we’ve ever had,” North coach Rick Weinheimer said. “It’s outside his comfort zone a little bit to be the one that everybody notices, but he knew the team needed him in that spot, and he became a good training leader and a good racing leader.”
The Bull Dogs’ No. 5 runner last season, Tays improved his time from 15 minutes, 52 seconds as a junior to 15:31 this year. He finished 21st in the state finals to earn All-State honors and lead North to a sixth-place team finish.
“I’m happy with my own season, and I’m really happy with the result that we got as a team, too,” Tays said. “There were a lot of people that doubted us at the beginning of the season, and we just proved a lot of people wrong and did the best we could.”
After not qualifying for state in track this spring, Tays went to work over the summer. He attended the PAAVO North Camp in Michigan and the Bull Dogs’ team camp at McCormick’s Creek State Park with the entire team and the PAAVO Missouri Camp with the seniors.
“I think training-wise, he put in a lot of miles to get there,” Weinheimer said. “Last year, it was easy for him to get pulled along by those seniors that we had, so I think as much as anything, he had to make a big mental jump this year, and he made that for us.”
Tays is planning to continue his running career at the collegiate level. He visited IUPUI last week and plans to visit Grand Valley State in December and Indiana and Eastern Illinois after the first of the year.
This spring, Tays hopes to break 9:20 in the 3,200 and 4:20 in the 1,600 and qualify for state in at least one of those events.
“Just based off this cross season and then hopefully winter, I can get some good momentum going into track season and have a good track season and then another good summer before my freshman year,” Tays said.