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The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Runner Up: A Look Back at the 2023 MCLA Cross Country Season

Patrick+Casagrande+%28Left%29+and+Elyjah+Garneau+%28Right%29+running+during+the+Panther+Invitational+hosted+by+the+Albany+College+of+Pharmacy+and+Sciences+at+Indian+Ladder+Farms+%28via+MCLA+Athletics%29.
Patrick Casagrande (Left) and Elyjah Garneau (Right) running during the Panther Invitational hosted by the Albany College of Pharmacy and Sciences at Indian Ladder Farms (via MCLA Athletics).

The 2023 MCLA Cross Country season was one that certainly experienced both high and low points, dating back to the preseason. Just weeks before the men’s and women’s teams were just weeks away from competing in their first meet to participate in the Panther Invitational hosted by the Albany College of Pharmacy on September 2, former head coach Jackie Varney unexpectedly resigned from the position. 

Instead of focusing on the task at hand, players could not help but wonder if there was still going to be a season or not. Despite the uncertainties, men’s captain Elyjah Garneau ‘25 believed that the team showed grit and determination through the whole situation, and that as the season progressed, so did the team’s ability to get better and better.

“We got an email one week before coming back to campus that [Varney] was doing her own thing going on in her personal life and she couldn’t stay committed, which is understandable and we all understand that,” he said. “It was a little bit of a challenge for us after [Varney] left, but I think we really managed to pull through and just tried our best. We got better every meet, which is most important,”

The team would be able to find new leadership quickly in Women’s Basketball head coach David Bostick, who would add to his role as both the Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Head Coach. Right away, he wasted no time getting both teams to work, having the players travel back to MCLA early to get work in during the preseason, which consisted of two workouts a day in the forms of long-distance running and short sprints. 

For Garneau, he felt the training was “effective,” allowing the runners to get back into shape and feel a difference between the previous season in 2022 and this year.

“A lot of us were out of shape, and it was probably the quickest I got into shape in a while,” he said. “I really started noticing the difference between last year when I first started and this year when I first started, and this year was a lot better.”

It would help both teams prepare for six different meets for the upcoming season. In addition to the Panther Invitational, both MCLA’s men’s and women’s teams competed in the New Platz Invitational, Purple Valley Classic, Founding Tree Invitational, Western New England Invitational, and the MASCAC Championship, which resulted in three top-ten finishes for the men’s team, and two top ten finishes for the women’s team.

While the ultimate goal was to win, the biggest goal for each of the team was to be able to stay motivated, especially with the low amount of runners each team had. The men’s team consisted of six runners, while the women’s team consisted of 11 runners, with many runners coming from other sports on other sports teams here at MCLA.

Despite the potential lack of cross country and long-distance running experience, Garneau acknowledged how quickly other student-athletes were able to pick up on it and how grateful the teams are for others stepping up when they needed it most.

“Honestly, I’m really impressed with all the people that ran with us this year,” he said. “I’m truly grateful because we can’t really run if we don’t have a certain number of runners. The basketball, soccer, and some hockey players have helped us, and they’ve all done really well, and in some cases, they’ve beaten most of us and they’re pretty good, so there’s nothing other to say than just I’m grateful they ran, and I just hoped they enjoyed it.”

Enjoying the season they did, as many players were able to enjoy their personal bests in certain races. Kristie Zator ‘26 of the women’s team, who also plays for the women’s basketball and softball teams, set a personal best in a 6k served during the Founding Tree Invitational placing 7th overall out of 75 runners, which she said was the highlight of the season for her.

“I wanted to improve my times from last year,” she said. “Personally, [the season] went well. I ran a personal best of 26:43 for a 6k, which was over a minute faster than my time from last year.”

Kristie Zator ’26 crossing the finish line during the Panther Invitational hosted by the Albany College of Pharmacy and Sciences at Indian Ladder Farms (via MCLA Athletics).

In addition to the success the teams had on the running field, many of the lessons and skills some of the players took away from the season can be used in other areas of their athletic careers here at MCLA too. For both Zator and Garneau, cross country has helped them excel in their other sports.

“I enjoy running, and it helps me a lot with my endurance and just overall just staying in shape for my other sports seasons,” said Zator. “Basketball has started, so now I’ll be focusing on that, but I plan on continuing to run and get faster so that I can improve my times next season.”

“One of the biggest reasons I joined cross country was because I had a summer [baseball] coach who told me that as a pitcher, you’re constantly moving, and you’re doing the same thing in cross country, so you’re training your body and your mind, to be ready to be constantly moving, constantly being right and being vigilant in a way,” said Garneau. “In those games where I’m pitching six innings, I’m not huffing and puffing, I’m able to stay cool, collected, and I think doing cross country has been the most beneficial for me not even for just baseball, but just being in shape in general and my mentality.

“I think I’ve just been happier, running outside and enjoying it, being with friends, and just being able to love my sport, competing, doing well in the fall [baseball] season, and it’s just been a blast,” he continued. 

While the season has come to an end and many members of both teams have transitioned over to focusing on their other sports, the team looks to build on the foundation Bostick set in place for them entering the fall, and with more experience, expect to come back even better come next fall.

“In terms of looking for next year, the biggest thing is just running consistently,” said Garneau. “Cross country is not a sport where you can just stop, you’ve got to keep running, and you really feel a difference where you run five to six days a week then if you’re running three to four days a week, so that’s gonna be our major focus for next year, and I think we’re gonna be a much better and competitive team in that way if we can stay committed.”

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Owen Brown, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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