MIDDLEBURY — Ryan McClane ran for the man who would have to be considered the architect of the Northridge High School cross country programs.
The 1993 Northridge graduate has turned out to be a pretty good program builder of his own.
When Ken Willems took over the Northridge programs, he turned the Raiders into a state powerhouse. His girls teams won eight consecutive Northern Lakes Conference titles, seven straight IHSAA sectionals, five semistate crowns in a row and had a string of six consecutive appearances in the state finals, finishing fourth, second, third, fifth, sixth and 13th. The girls had a winning streak of 112 meets over local teams covering nine seasons.
The Raider boys won four straight NLC crowns and placed fourth in the state finals for Willems.
Last fall was McClane’s 20th season coaching the Northridge girls and his eighth directing the boys program.
“I didn’t plan on staying this long,” McClane said. “At the beginning of my career, there were guys like Allen Schockney at Plymouth and Dave Stookey at Wawasee that had been coaching for 30 to 40 years. I looked at myself and couldn’t see myself staying the long. Now I can see it and really don’t see myself leaving.”
McClane began his coaching career in 1998. He guided the girls to consecutive sectional titles from 2000 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2017 and in 2019. Regional crowns were in 2002 through 2008 plus 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2019. Semistate wins came in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008.
The Northridge boys have won sectional crowns in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 to go with regional titles in 2012 and 2013.
“Ryan was a team captain when he ran for me at Northridge,” Willems said. “When I retired, Ryan was graduating from college. He was one of two guys I recommended for the job. I was told he was too young.
“Ryan has had tremendous success and I am very proud of that. The fact that Ryan has continued to coach for over 20 years now, while being among the state’s elite teams almost every year, is extremely impressive.”
FOOT IN THE DOOR
After graduating from Northridge, McClane ran one year at Southwestern Michigan College for Ron Gunn before transferring to Purdue.
“Running in college is different. You are more on your own,” McClane said. “No one is watching you every step of the way. I missed that from high school.”
While completing his college degree at Purdue University, McClane wanted to go into teaching and coaching. He wanted to teach U. S. history and social studies and knew it was sometimes harder to find a job in those fields. Because of that, he decided to complete his studies in a rather unusual way.
“I figured a good way of getting an edge on a teaching job was coaching,” he said. “I got the job at Northridge and, in my last two years of college, would take the fall semester off to coach the Raiders. Then I would go back to Lafayette for the spring semester.
“Northridge has always been a special place for me. I knew I would like to teach and coach there.”
The first year, McClane and former Northridge runner Josh Fletcher were co-coaches. McClane took over the girls program in 1999 and added the boys in 2012.
Fletcher coached at Penn High School (2014-18) before being named the head men’s and women’s track and field coach at Trine University in Angola.
McClane develops long-lasting relationships with his runners.
“The runners put everything into their races and their training. After seeing that kind of commitment over the course of three or four years, there is a bond that develops,” McClane said. “When they leave after their senior season, it is almost like losing a member of the family. You spend so much time with them for the past three or four years and then they are gone.”
There is a solid county program at Heritage Middle School, and McClane begins watching them at a young age. The veteran coach has already noticed a young runner named Jaxon Miller, who is the son of former Northridge athlete and coach Sam Miller.
“We let Jaxon in the elementary program early when as a 3rd-grader because he was beating runners in the 4th and 5th grade,” the coach said.
Learning about youngsters at an early age was something McClane picked up for Willems.
“He started working with me in the 8th grade,” McClane said. “Not only was he my coach, but he was my math teacher, so I saw a lot of him.
“There are some workouts the Ken taught me that will still use today.”