UNION — Expectations are high for the Union/Cove cross-country program. The perennial powerhouse returns one of the state’s top runners on the boys side.

Taylor Fox, still only a junior, has high expectations in sight this year. The Union runner is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Class 2A/1A spring state championships that helped Union win the team title. Returning as an upperclassman, Fox is looking to lead the Bobcats back to the top spot.

“I think we have a good shot at possibly winning state this year,” Fox said. “Fingers crossed though, because nothing is ever guaranteed.”

Nothing is guaranteed in sports, but those who follow cross-country know that Fox finishing near the top of the pack is all but certain these days. The junior is off to a hot start this season, finishing second at the Catherine Creek Scamper on Sept. 10. He won the Weiser Invite with a time of 17 minutes, 47 seconds on Sept. 2 and took second at the New Plymouth Invitational on Aug. 26, clocking in at 17:30.

As a freshman, Fox finished ninth in the state with a 16:38. That mark is still a career-best time that he hopes to surpass this season.

“I’d like to break 16 this year,” Fox said. “I haven’t beaten my time from freshman year, but so far I think I have a good shot of going under 16 this year.”

Fox started running competitively in the third grade, when his older sister was competing in the program. Around fifth grade, he knew that he was capable of being a competitive runner and recording fast times. Having established himself at the team’s top runner, Fox sets the standard for those involved at the Union/Cove program.

“Expectations for him are pretty high. I always forget that he’s still a junior,” Union/Cove head coach Steve Sheehy said. “He’s a great leader and a really mature kid.”

For cross-country runners who experience success early on, it can be difficult to continue dropping times. For Fox, the mentality is to improve every day at practice.

“Every day you go hard to an extent where you don’t hurt yourself, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit more to get better and better,” he said.

Fox and Sheehy are both aware that one runner does not create a winning team, which is why the Bobcats focus on team success. Now an upperclassman, Fox is trying to encourage the entire team to succeed.

“I try to keep leading and encouraging other runners so that they don’t give up and can get better,” he said. “If I feel like they’re going a little slow, I try to push them and get them to go a little faster at practice.”

The Bobcats have a mix of young and experienced talent, with seniors Skyler Perkins and Isaac Lee encouraging the younger runners. For the Bobcats, sophomore Eli Williams and freshman Nathanael O’Reilly have stepped up into the top group. Sheehy said that having a top runner like Fox lead the way is helping the whole team’s performance.

“Taylor Fox is one of the best leaders I’ve had in my 20 years of coaching,” he said. “He’s a very good vocal leader as well as leading by example.”

Sheehy hopes that the hard practices and leadership will help create a deep, team-oriented mentality..

“The team knows you have to have five, six or seven good runners,” Sheehy said. “It’s great to have top runners, but you have to have those three, four and five guys to go with them or your team isn’t going anywhere.”

Fox is looking to lead the team to another state title on the boys side, but he also has high expectations for his own personal improvement this year.

“Personally, I would love to win state if I could, but it’s not a guarantee,” he said.

Fox credits the community of runners within the program for fostering a productive atmosphere at Union.

“In our community we have a good running mentality,” he said. “We start young and just build up from there. Everyone is really supportive of everyone in our running community.”

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