BOONVILLE — When looking at his college options, Starmount senior distance runner Aaron Combs sought to stay close to home and join a small, close-knit track program.
Combs believes he found the best of both worlds at Guilford College, and he recently committed to join the Quakers’ track and cross country programs for 2010-11.
Guilford competes at the NCAA Division III three level. Combs was so impressed with the school, the newly formed program and coach Bill Cason, that he chose the Greensboro school over other more esteemed suitors like Appalachian State and Wake Forest.
“Coming from a small school, I like that environment,” Combs said. “I’m not going to be in a big auditorium with a bunch of people. The biggest class I’m going to be in is like 15, with a lot of one-on-one.
“It’ll be the same with coaching.”
Combs has been a standout on the track at Starmount since his freshman year. He blazed to a silver medal in the 800 meters in last year’s 2A state meet. He’s a strong contender for gold in this year’s state finale, which will be in a few weeks in Greensboro.
Combs placed in the top 10 in his first-ever appearance in the state cross country championships this past fall.
Guilford has offered cross country since 2004 but only restored its track and field program this past school year. Cason has an impressive resume, which includes coaching multiple distance runners to All-America honors, ACC championships (while at Clemson) and even Olympic team berths, according to Guilford’s athletics Web site.
Cason also helped start a track and field program at UNC Wilmington in the late 1980s.
“He’s friends with my personal coach (Dan Merritt) a little bit and they coach a lot in the same way,” Combs said. “I’ll get a lot of individual attention from him.”
Combs has been a key reason the Starmount boys have finished undefeated in regular season meets the past three years. While the 800 meters is his specialty, he also has been strong in the 400 and on relays.
“He’ll be a star at Guilford like he is here,” Rams coach Kristi Gaddis said. “He’s very quiet on a team but he leads by example. He never complains about any workouts. He always does exactly what he’s supposed to do. He’s been a very great influence on the kids around him at practice.”
Combs ran a season’s best in the 800 meters (1:54.96) in the ASU High School Invitational on April 17. That’s one of the fastest recorded times in the state among 2A runners this entire spring.
Combs’ personal record in the event is 1:54.79, clocked in last year’s state meet at N.C. A&T.
The biggest challenger to gold in this year’s state meet likely will come from Polk County’s John Spencer Wolfe, an NC State signee. Wolfe has cracked the 1:54 mark in meets this season, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
“My goal time is 1:52,” Combs said. “That’s what I’m shooting for. Running a 1:52 flat would be the 10th fastest time in North Carolina history.”
Combs said he’s planning now to focus his studies at Guilford around something in the medical field.
Guilford’s 2010 track and field roster features 22 men’s competitors. The Quakers have six track/cross country commitments, including Combs, for the 2010-11 school year, according to the Web site www.ncrunners.com.
“From his freshman year at Starmount, he has been an integral part of the team,” Gavin Combs, Aaron’s dad, said. “Going to a smaller school, he will walk in the door and be the same thing. App and Wake told us he would run straight away. But going to Guilford, he’s going to get a lot of one-on-one personalized workouts.
“It was real flattering to get the letters from Notre Dame and Georgia Tech and the Ivy League schools and Service Academies. But realistically, this was the good fit."