Leading the Pack

Mt. Lebanon High School cross country runner Patrick Anderson racked up an undefeated season and topped it off with a third-place finish in the national championships. He will continue his career at the University of North Carolina.

The past several months, Patrick Anderson felt a lot of pressure, some of it admittedly self-imposed. After all, how many high school seniors set out to have an undefeated athletic season, keep up their 4.9 GPA, go through a stressful college recruiting process and deal with tendinitis?

Oh, and keep their lawn service business going?

How many would accomplish it all?

OK, there was one blemish, if you want to call it that. After winning every cross country meet as a senior—including his second consecutive state Class AAA title and the Northeast Regional title—Anderson finished third at the national championships in December.

“Finishing third in the nation is not that big a loss,” Mt. Lebanon cross country and track coach Mike Agostinella says. “With every victory–and he ran a couple of course records in some really big meets­­—you could see his confidence building, building, building.”

So was the pressure, but Anderson ran right through it.

“From the start, I had some injuries in August, some tendinitis I was dealing with,” he says. Combine that with six consecutive weekend college visits at the beginning of the season and the pressure of defending the state championship he won the previous year.

“Mentally, I was just trying to stay focused and I really just took it race by race. The whole year, that was kind of the mindset. I was able to fight under the pressure and come away with a win in all of those situations.”

Anderson, Midway Road, is participating in the indoor and outdoor track seasons as he finishes his high school career. Then he is taking it on the road to the University of North Carolina after a spectacular Lebo career.

As a junior, Anderson finished sixth in the Northeast and 29th at nationals and was the Pennsylvania Gatorade boys cross country runner of the year–something he was in the running for again this year.

“The thing he’s had that other kids don’t have is the grit and competitive drive,” says his mother, Meghan, herself a middle-distance runner in high school here in the ’80s. “I’ve seen other kids have a lot of talent, but you can also see when a kid doesn’t have either the confidence or the drive. He really has both. When he sets his mind to something, he typically accomplishes it. I think that’s innate.”

That includes more than running. His academics illustrate that. So does his venture with good friend Jack Casturo, called Two Guys With Some Tools. It is not just kids going door to door offering to cut lawns.

“There would be plenty of days where he would be dog tired, dragging after a cross country meet and have to go clean up some yards,” Meghan says. “They have a lot of clients, and they also employ some other high school kids.”

Anderson participated in several sports growing up. He winnowed that to wrestling and running before settling on cross country in middle school.

“He was setting goals for himself in middle school,” Meghan says. “He wanted to win in cross country. He wanted to get under a five-minute mile. Things that other kids weren’t setting for themselves in middle school.” Meghan excused herself for a few seconds and, thanks to organized records the family keeps, confirmed that Patrick ran a 4:52 mile in eighth grade, meeting his goal.

Agostinella, a former University of Pittsburgh coach in his 54th year of coaching, says Anderson is “like a totally different runner” as a senior. “I more or less trained him … like a college kid. He had the physical assets to be able to do that. He got a little bit ahead of the curve. Patrick is very, very aggressive in terms of reaching his goals. I expect him to be driven by that aggressiveness to go on and do great things.”

The coaches at North Carolina agree.

“I think Patrick has enormous potential on the next level,” says Chris Miltenberg, director of the Tar Heels cross country and track programs. “You don’t just look at what somebody’s done, but you’ve got to look at the context in which they’ve done it. Here’s a guy who’s coming from a place where he’s training through really hard winters, hasn’t raced a lot outside the state of Pennsylvania. Over a two- or three-year period, he can develop into one of the very best guys in the country at the college level.”

Anderson’s commitment to North Carolina is a story by itself. That school and Stanford were among those on his radar. Stanford had a decorated program that centered on distance running; North Carolina, where he had made a couple of unofficial visits, was closer and was appealing for several reasons. Then, in a rather stunning move on the college coaching level, the Tar Heels made a change and hired away the full Stanford staff.

“At the end of September everything fell into place,” Anderson says.

The North Carolina coaches were thrilled to make him part of their first recruiting class at their new school.

“The real kicker for us came once we started engaging in conversations with him, identifying what kind of person he was,” says Dylan Sorensen, one of the Tar Heels distance coaches and the distance recruiting coordinator. “What made us really excited about Patrick is that he had that personality. Patrick proved to be a terrific person throughout that process—one who wants to challenge himself to see how good he can be at whatever he does in his life.”

Meghan says she and her husband, Todd, have felt “pure joy to be along for his ride.” It has kept her in shape, too, running around from vantage point to vantage point at his meets to gauge his progress.

In fact, Meghan was there in San Diego but didn’t see Patrick’s finish at nationals, when he took a tumble over the finish line but still came in a tenth of a second ahead of the fourth-place finisher, in 15:18.

“He’s a really well-rounded kid,” Meghan says. “I think the thing that probably makes us most proud is that running isn’t the only part of Patrick that makes him so special. He is a really good student. He is a really good kid. He has been an altar server at church. His grades. And he has a business on the side that most kids couldn’t pull off if that was the only thing they were doing.”