Junior star runner Jaden Theis, powered by strong Lansing Catholic teammates, makes her mark.
LANSING, Mich. – The Lansing Catholic girls cross country team is quickly filling up a trophy case with all of its wins. Junior Jaden Theis captured the 2018 Division 2 individual state title.
If that outcome sounds a bit familiar, it is because her older sister, Olivia Theis, won the 2017 individual state title during Lansing Catholic’s championship run.
Olivia, the 2017-18 Michigan national cross country athlete of the year, now competes at the University of Michigan. And Theis is starting her own college recruitment cycle.
Theis said that she gets along well with her older sister.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty nice when she’s not here,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s kind of hard because there’s nobody that I know to pace me. It’s nice knowing that there’s not somebody that’s always going to beat me.”
Having such a high level of competition in her DNA has driven Theis’ performance throughout her life.
“I feel like it adds a little bit of knowing where I should be or how good I should be doing,” Theis said.
Cougar head coach Tim Simpson has had the privilege of coaching both the Theis sisters.
“They’re both very self-motivated and work a ton on their own,” Simpson said of the sisters. “They don’t get taken by surprise by anybody in competition and are ready for everybody regardless.”
A “maintenance issue to avoid injury” to her right hip only minimally slowed her start to the season.
“I worked on stabilizing my hip muscles over the summer, and I feel like with school, it’s kind of backed down a little bit,” she said. “So, I need to work on that again.”
“When healthy, only two girls in the state can compete with Jaden,” Cougar assistant coach Andrew Middleton said. “She is leaps and bounds better than anyone in the area.”
Since her older sister is now running at Michigan, Theis’ internal competition comes from teammate Lauren Cleary. The senior has been piling up impressive results of her own throughout the 2018 season.
Cleary has captured first place four times so far, at the Portage Invitational on Oct. 6 and at the first three CAAC White meets. She has finished second behind Theis twice, at the Division 2 Regionals on Oct. 26 and at the Greater Lansing Cross Country Championships on Oct. 13.
“Lauren and Jaden are part of one of the best 1-2 combos in the nation,” Simpson said. “Both have put a lot of time in to get where they are. They are elite in talent and in work ethic.”
Michigan State, Purdue, Ball State, Furman among others are recruiting Cleary. Simpson has noticed how important the recruitment process is to her.
“Lauren has done a great job,” Simpson said. “Sometimes even overshadowed by the Theis girls, but Lauren’s one of the best runners in the state. She knows that there’s a process to being good and that she’s in there and doesn’t get overly concerned about every little thing that goes on. She’s got a decision coming up from some really good schools and she keeps running better, so her options keep improving.”
Having successful leaders such as Theis and Cleary give the Cougars a unique advantage.
“It gives everybody someone to look up to,” Simpson said. “A lot of times during our summer program, I’ll send everyone off on a run. Those girls will be gone, they’ll be up running with the boys. So some of the younger girls are like ‘they’re not even in the picture, literally.’ But when they are, they see exactly how hard they work. Not everybody’s willing to work that hard, but they see what it takes and they really respect those girls and it steps up our level.”
Even though her hip muscles haven’t cooperated as she’d like, Theis has embraced her leadership role.
“It’s pretty fun taking a little bit of charge, trying to make it more fun for others who maybe don’t like running as much,” she said. “For cross country, individual success leads to team success. So you have to start with the individual success in order to get the team success.”