KINGMAN - Lake Havasu's John Ryan has been a fixture in the Mohave County track and field community for 36 years.
One of his stops prior to becoming a middle distance runners coach at Lake Havasu High school 15 years ago was spent at Dublin University, where he mingled with some of Ireland's elite athletes.
"I am 62 and I've been at this for a long time," Ryan said. "It's an incredible passion and an incredible love."
Given that background, who is better qualified to evaluate the county's newest high school track team? Ryan jumped at the chance and didn't hesitate to heap praise on Lee Williams High track coach Joan Abraham for the success the Volunteers have had this year with a squad made up of just freshmen.
"I've admired them and a lot of it is because originally, when you're a freshman, there are no leaders and there is no experience," Ryan said. "Even if they competed last year in middle school, it's still very innocent compared to high school. The coach has done an incredible job there.
"It's a labor of love for her. I know it is. I've done it with a small club when I was in my 20s in Ireland. You would be lucky if you had 12 guys on the team."
Although LWHS hasn't won any meets this year, and likely won't, they've turned the heads of their competition by having athletes place high in races, in some cases beating athletes who are four-year letter winners.
It's this type of success as freshmen that Ryan has seen before. Lake Havasu would travel to Glendale Copper Canyon and Peoria Liberty, teams Ryan said didn't have much success when they were just freshmen. Since then, though, they have progressed into two of the better teams in Division II track and field.
"They were pitiful the first year, but you could see the progress every year," Ryan said.
The best advice Ryan has for Abraham is simple: Get more girls on the team.
"Girls can compete as freshmen where boys can't. If you are a freshman and you can compete as a boy then you're studly," Ryan said. "But the average boy doesn't compete as a freshman. He has to go through the grind and he doesn't have the muscle and strength of what an 18-year-old does. But the girls can compete."
In addition to getting more girls on the team, Ryan also had high praise for LWHS distance runner Brendon Alred.
"He's really taken the lead as a young 3200-meter runner," Ryan said. "Just a beautiful stride. I saw him two weeks ago in Kingman and darn it, he was in the same half a lap as the top varsity guys. That's great."
As Lee Williams continues to grow over the next couple of years, Ryan believes the Volunteers will have a solid group of distance runners. It's something that Ryan attributes to the temperature and altitude of Kingman.
"Looking at Kingman, they've always had great long distance runners," Ryan said. "It's in the water, it's in the air. Kingman is where you can practice without killing yourself."