Calvert Hall’s Cameron Davis is serious about distance running. He just doesn’t like to be too serious.
He runs hard and trains harder, but he likes to keep things light right up to the start of a race.
That strategy, the Cardinals junior said, helped him win the biggest race of his career Saturday at the 39th Annual Barnhart Memorial Cross Country Invitational at Dulaney.
Davis ran the 5000-meter course in 15 minutes, 23.2 seconds, the second fastest time in the event’s history and not far off the course record of 15:14.0 set by Loyola-Blakefield’s Matt Jablonski in 2010. Dulaney’s Eric Walz ran the previous second best time, 15:27.7 in 2015, but Mount Saint Joseph’s Charlie Butler eclipsed that too Saturday, running behind Davis in 15:26.9.
Walz, who now coaches Dulaney, said he didn’t know anything about Davis before Saturday’s race.
“That was one heck of a run,” Walz said. “It’s so early in the season… and he looked so strong and smooth. That’s a sign of not just being fit — clearly he’s been committed the past summer — but the toughness too. While it helps that people push you, at the same time, it’s also a tougher battle. You can get discouraged if the guy next to you seems like he looks really good, so it says a lot about his competitiveness too, to me.”
A competitive runner since he was around 8 years old, Davis has learned not to think too much about a race beforehand and he feels that has helped him steadily progress and run personal best times in many of the biggest races.
He won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Maryland Private School State cross country championships last fall, but the Barnhart was his breakout performance. He ran a personal best 5K time and crushed his 16:46.1 finish last September for 10th place.
“I just don’t put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I just like to have fun with it. I really try not to get serious and really locked into the race until the last minute, because I used to do that a lot when I was younger. Focus was really the only thing I was worried about and I got really nervous before races, but now that I’m having more fun with it, I think, is a big reason why I’ve gotten a lot better.”
Davis also runs track and in the spring he won the MIAA 1,600 meters and was third in the 3,200 meters. He finished second in the 800 meters at the private schools championship. All were personal best times.
Calvert Hall coach Scott Baker said Davis is a gamer and that gives him an edge over many runners.
“Expectations motivate him, they don’t stress him out,” Baker said. “You don’t ever feel like he can’t do it… I don’t think you can teach being a gamer or showing up when it matters. That’s something he can do. I saw that early on and I was like if he can do that and he’s got good talent and he doesn’t get hurt, then the sky’s kind of the limit.”
One of the runners whose time Davis eclipsed at the Barnhart was Matt Centrowitz, the former Broadneck star who won the 2016 Olympic gold medal at 1,500 meters. In 2005, he finished in 15.28.0, which now ranks fifth.
“I really look up to Matt Centrowitz, because he’s a big athlete from Maryland,” Davis said. “There’s not many distance runners from Maryland that are pro right now. That’s really cool, because it kind of affirms that I’m getting better to the spot where I kind of want to be at.”
Baker, who started coaching Davis last season, saw his potential right away but even more so during outdoor track season. At the New Balance Nationals Outdoor, Davis ran on the Cardinals’ distance medley relay and their 4x800-meter relay, both of which ran All-America times. In the 4x800, he ran an impressive 1:54 split.
“Originally our whole plan, with a kid that talented, was just not to screw it up and make sure he didn’t get hurt, but in outdoor track, we started to change our mindset. We thought maybe he might be a once-in-a-lifetime talent in Maryland, so we decided to really push it this summer,” Baker said.
Davis, 16, had always run AAU track with the White Knight Track Club, so it was his first time training through the summer for cross country. He decided he wanted to break 15 minutes this fall and take aim at the state record.
For a 5K cross country race, the high school state record is believed to be 14:57 and Davis will have more chances at that later in the season. In the meantime, he’s preparing for Saturday’s Bull Run at Hereford, a hilly 3-mile run where the course record is 15:34.9.
Davis finished 14th last year in 17:17.4, but after his Barnhart win, he will be one of the favorites.
He said he’s not the biggest fan of the up-and-down Hereford course, but he likes that it’s hard. As with his other races, he has no predetermined strategy.
“I think I just have to put myself in it and figure out when I want to make a move, possibly to win,” said Davis, who finished 14th at the Bull Run last season. “I usually try to figure it out on race day, usually before the race, but sometimes I’ll change it up in the race depending on how I feel. It will definitely be to stay in the front and do something when I think it’s right to make a move.”
And Davis won’t be running just for himself.
As he crossed the finish line at the Barnhart, he pumped the “Calvert Hall” on the front of his jersey. He said he looked back at a u-turn late in the race and saw several of his teammates, so he figured they were likely to win the team championship, which they did.
Davis always looks to his teammates for company on long training runs. He doesn’t like to run alone. He wants the team to win the Bull Run maybe more than he wants to win the individual championship.
“He’s a team guy,” said Cardinals junior Luke Doetschman. “It’s always about the team winning and about how we, as a unit, want to be the best… He’s invested in us as much as he’s invested in him, but I knew he was ready to run something fast and he’s going to run faster too. We know big things are coming for him.”