Separate but together: Strong connection between James and coach Ramos remains
Before moving on to become the head girls cross country coach at Illiana Christian, Jorge Ramos made quite an impression on numerous runners while he was on the staff back at Lowell, notably Karina James.
"I actually learned a lot from coach Ramos," the Red Devils standout said earlier this season. "He taught me everything I needed to know. He started talking to me on repeat things about the body, what I need to do, why. He's a running genius. He'll just never admit it. When he left, I was like, oh my goodness, but he wouldn't have left if he didn't think we could figure it out on our own."
James certainly has, finishing fourth in the state finals last season and priming herself for another run at the title this fall.
"She's on a different level," Ramos said during the New Prairie Invitational. "There was Jordyn Boyer before her. I was fortunate to coach (James') sister (Annalise). They're always working to try to find a better way. I remember when (Karina) came in as a freshman, I asked her, what's your goal for the season? She said, I would like to break 20 minutes. As a coach, you can't describe it, when that chemistry's right, you just feel it when you know something's special going to happen. As it started to unfold, she looked at me and was like, what just happened? It's a beautiful thing. It affirms what you're doing, that's you're doing something right."
Jorge Ramos coaches at Illiana Christian now,
but his influence on Lowell's Karina James
and her success remains strong.
A pharmacist by trade, Ramos applies the science background from his profession to his passion, explaining how the balance between not enough and too much is a delicate one when it comes to running.
"I was a runner back in the day," he said. "I had the talent, but I never knew what I was doing. I was never coached by a distance coach. I use the analogy, think of a plant, if you don't fertilize enough, it wilts. If you fertilize it too much, it wilts. If you don't water it enough, it wilts. If you water it too much, it wilts. When you get it just right, it blossoms. Running is a lot like that. It's very complex, but I like to simplify things for the kids."
James completely gets it. Like Ramos, she's a deeper thinker, which is probably why they hit it off so well.
"I'm really into forensics," she said. "I'm really interested in psychological patterns."
In an investment-reward sport like cross country, where you get out of it as much as you put into it, James knows there's a time when you need to ease off on the gas pedal, understanding it's all part of the big picture.
"There was a period where I took a lot of time off, but given the circumstances, it wasn't a problem because I'm right where I need to be," she said after winning Lowell's Bob Thomas Invite. "I was kind of focused more on the strength part of it. The core is a big aspect in running. I have the aerobic system, I needed a little more core work, strength training. Research says when you focus on the core for a couple weeks, even months before you get into more of your hard running, you're better off for injury prevention. Toward the end of the season last year, I had a few rough spots that I could have prevented."
James' sister Annalise is a sophomore at Western Michigan. Her senior year with Lowell, she was the lead-off and Karina, a freshman, the anchor of the 3,200 relay team that took fourth in the state. The youngest girl in her family -- Karina has three younger brothers -- she might be the last runner among them. While their paths are directed toward football, another sport for which the family is well-known -- Ike starred at Lowell and played at Wabash -- a common thread extends through all of them.
"(The boys) might pop into track season but they're not focused on running," James said. "Our parents did a great job raising us to be competitive, yet also graceful with it. One of my proudest moments was the entire cross country season of my freshman year. My sister was a senior, so I had her to teach me all the ways. It was amazing to be able to run on the same team as my sister. She taught me everything. Her season was cancelled, but she's still training. They're really on their own. Running's a great sport to be able to do on your own. (Ike)'s done with sports. He's torn his ACL twice. He'd never say that, but it's probably for the best."
As Ramos brings his up and coming Illiana Christian team to Lemon Lake on Saturday for the Crown Point Regional, he'll undoubtedly be keeping an eye on one of his star pupils.
"For me, it's always gratifying any time I can help another athlete realize their dream," he said. "It really is just paying it forward. I'm passionate about helping others. I love the running community. There are some things that are starting to develop (with our program), and I'm excited about that. For (James), it's unique. She has all the tools, the discipline, the hard work, dedication. That's what's going to make you successful, not only on the field but off the field. That's what I try to tell the kids. The lessons you learn out here, they're not necessarily about the running, that's just the tool. Winning the race isn't what matters, it's how you run the race. It's a lot deeper than what's on the surface. That's kind of what my philosophy is about."
Crown Point Regional
AT LEMON LAKE
Girls (10:30 a.m.)
Advancement: Top five.
Locks: Lake Central, Crown Point, Lowell, Highland, Munster
In the hunt: Anyone else making it would qualify as a big surprise.
Karina James of Lowell will comfortably lead the way. Lake Central's Rachel Narjes and Natalie Kransky went 1-2 at Highland. Hobart freshman Ella Hornak and CP's Caitlyn Derwinski were 2-3 behind James.
Boys (11:15 a.m.)
Advancement: Top five
Locks: Crown Point, Lake Central, Munster
This should be the order of finish for the top three.
In the hunt: Hanover Central, Lowell, Griffith, Illiana Christian, Hobart, Highland.
You can just about throw a blanket over these teams. All of 14 points separated Hanover, Lowell, Illiana and Hobart in the sectional.
Crown Point has the local knowledge, but everyone will be chasing Lucas Guerra. It should be pretty crowded after him as the Bulldogs have had a number of runners lead them this season. Last week, it was Quinton Bock with Jackson Bakker (Lowell), Zach Dunn (Merrillville) and Bruce Leipart (Hobart) within five seconds of him. Logan Russell headed LC's pack at Highland.
AT SUNSET HILL FARM
Girls (10:30 a.m.) Team
Advancement: Top five.
Locks: Chesterton, Valparaiso, Wheeler.
In the Hunt: La Porte, Portage, Rensselaer, Morgan Township.
Four teams for two spots. The big schools don't face the small schools much, so not much basis for comparison. La Porte was two points ahead of Portage in the sectional, and Rensselaer was two points in front of Morgan at its sectional.
How does Bailey Ranta (Chesterton) respond to her off showing (third place) in the sectional? She lost to Valpo's Kaylie Politza for the first time and also finished behind New Prairie's Lilly Zelasko. Amzie Maienbrook won the Rensselaer Sectional on her home course by a wide margin.
Boys (11:15 a.m.)
Advancement: Top five.
Locks: Chesterton, Valparaiso, Morgan Township.
The Trojans should win handily again and the Vikings look like the runner-up. Giving the Cherokees the benefit of the doubt that they will be able to beat one of the three bigger schools to get in the top five.
In the Hunt: La Porte, New Prairie, Portage, Kankakee Valley
Three for two here. La Porte having the likely winner obviously helps. The Indians' bubble is the thinnest.
Cole Raymond (La Porte) should roll. He won the sectional by 19 seconds on an 'off' day. Wide open behind him, including Rensselaer winner Owen Thomas of Morgan.