On Saturday, October 31, the Keene State College men’s and women’s cross country teams ran their way to dual Little East Conference (LEC) Championships. For the men, it was their fourth consecutive championship and, for the women, their sixteenth. KSC sophomore Phil Parent claimed the individual title on the men’s side, while Kait Wheeler won first overall for the women, beating out teammate Sammy Goldsmith by one tenth of a second.
When asked about the two championship wins, interim head coach Tom Pickering said, “It feels wonderful. This group, they’re not only good students but they’re excellent human beings.” Pickering took over as interim head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country teams as well as men’s and women’s track and field coach in October of 2013.
As for the long term success of the program in the past, pickering gives kudos to former head coach Peter Thomas. “I think some of the credit has to go to the coach who did it over that length of time,” Pickering said. He continued, “the runners know that if you come to Keene State as a distance runner, if you stay with the program for three or four years, you’re going to develop.” Sammy Goldsmith, who placed second overall for the women at LECs, largely contributed KSC’s success to the team’s performance in years past. “We definitely had a really strong season last year as well, and I think that helped us gain the confidence that we needed to perform the way we’ve been performing this year,” Goldsmith said.
The individual title winner for the men’s side, Phil Parent, said that the number of returning runners helped the Owls claim their fourth consecutive championship. “A lot of our strong guys ended up being juniors last year or sophomores, so a lot of our team is still pretty young. We got a lot of freshmen in this year,” Parent said.
Whether it’s the amount of experience or the consistency of the program, it seems to be working. The men scored 21 out of a possible perfect 15 points, with the second place team, University of Southern Maine, scoring 64 points. On the women’s side, KSC scored a perfect 15 with Southern Maine again in second with 66 points. Pickering said, “Big gaps on both sides, they both (men and women) ran very well.”
Both Parent and Goldsmith said that it helps to have runners beside them that have been there in years past. “We’ve all been running together for so many years now, that we’re really doing this for each other. We want each other to improve and get better as a team.” Parent added, “When it comes down to it, everyone works hard together.” As for the coach’s impact on the team, Goldsmith and Parent agreed that Pickering has had a positive impact in his tenure as interim head coach. “Coach is super enthusiastic,” Goldsmith explained. “He comes to our spaghetti dinners before the meets, he has a lot of energy and I think that sort of transfers into the team as well. He gets everyone excited to race.”Parent conquered with Goldsmith on the impact of their interim head coach. He added, “He’s very energetic. You’ll be in the race and you’ll hear him above everyone else.”
As for maintaining the success of KSC’s cross country program down the road, Goldsmith said it’s important to keep people running in all three seasons, including indoor and outdoor track. Goldsmith explained that the training cycle is designed in a way that would be most beneficial for the three-season runners. Parent said that it’s also important to make sure that “the team environment is a fun one,” saying that the team does their best to make all of the younger runners feel involved. “We’re all one team, we’re all working together,” Parent said.
Pickering finished his thoughts by saying, “It’s a real pleasure to get to work with these athletes here, who are the best distance running crew in our conference year in and year out.”The Owls will compete in the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships on November 7, and the New England Regionals at Connecticut College on November 14. The regionals are held at Harkness State Memorial Park, a course that the Owls have already run once this season and, according to Pickering, ran very well.
Crae Messer can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org