Cross Country’s Dream Season

BEFORE EVERY SEASON, I look at our cast of characters and dream of what would be the perfect scenario for our team,” says Karen Boen, Stonehill’s Hall of Fame men’s cross country coach. “But I’d be lying if I said I thought we would go undefeated.”

Yet that’s exactly what the Skyhawks did, winning a ninth NE10 Championship; their first East Regional Championship since 2013—earning the team their 15th-straight nationals bid; and the program’s first-ever New England Championship.

“We had that perfect balance. We were having a lot of fun while at the same time being the most serious and intense we’ve ever been,” said Riley Dowd ’19, the youngest of the team’s three captains. “We had just such a great group; they made it easy.”

That balance and buy-in from the 15-man team showed early. They swept their first two meets leading into the New England Championship, a race against a number of Division I programs including Dartmouth, UMass Amherst and Northeastern.

The Skyhawks bested them all. “It was our first real race of the season, our first real test to prove what we were all about,” said team captain James Murphy ’18. “Obviously, we made a big statement.”

The victory, while historic, was just an appetizer. “We had bigger fish to fry,” says Boen, regarding the team’s mentality after the win.

Specifically, their eyes were on the NE10 Championship two weeks later. The meet had been marked on their calendar all year long, thanks to rival American International College (AIC), which had won it three years running heading into 2017. The whole Stonehill team, especially its four seniors, knew they had an opportunity to knock AIC off their pedestal.

The Skyhawks did just that, edging out AIC by only two points.

“It honestly came down to the whole team showing up that day,” notes team captain Kenneth Vinacco ’18. “We had 14 guys that raced their hearts out… It was really good to finally stick it to them.”

Even better, the team had the opportunity to compete against AIC two-weeks later, at a slow, rain-soaked NCAA East Regional Championship course. This time, the win was by a decisive 66 points over their rivals. It capped off their first-ever undefeated regular season, which they followed up with the team’s best performance at nationals since 2006.

Excellence doesn’t come easy. To prepare, the team ran between 65 and 85 miles a week, including runs of 15 miles or more every Sunday after a race, days with morning lifts, two runs twice a week and more.

“Fun is winning, and winning requires you to be really fit,” Boen explains. “This year, our leaders and the team around them bought in, took the hits and made it happen. When I dreamed over the summer of every one of our guys being at their best and putting it all together at the right time, this is what I meant.”