Running For Each Other
By Emily Iannaconi
Special to GoHolyCross.com
“WAKE UP, IT’S JUNE 1ST!!!,” read the subject line of the email sent by senior co-captain Caroline Morano at midnight exactly to mark the start of the 2016 cross country season.
Summer training always begins on June 1. The e-mail chain in which all of the returning members introduce each other to the freshmen also begins that day. The teammates share stories, embarrassing photos and often send snapchats of each other beginning their first run of the season. Even when the Holy Cross women’s cross country team is apart, they all work together.
No member of the team knew that they were about to embark on an unforgettable season when Morano sent out that first email on June 1. The women returned to campus for preseason in August and completed the ominous green hill and rail trail workouts, unaware that they would finish third at the Patriot League Championship and second at the ECAC Championship. They did not know that their third place finish in the Patriot League would be the team’s best since 2001, and their second place performance at the ECAC Championship would earn them their highest finish ever in the meet's elite Championship race.
Like any other season, this team was too busy dancing on the starting line, eating Campion cookies and racing to 5:00 p.m. dinner to realize they were making history.
THE STARTING LINE
On the starting line of a race, many runners are silent and nervous, anxiously stretching or doing last minute strides. The Holy Cross women’s cross country team however, prefers to sing and dance. “Before the gun goes off, we usually sing to one of the following: ‘Kill the Lights’ by Alex Newell, ‘Starving’ by Hailee Steinfeld and of course Lil Jon’s running classic ‘Get Low,”’ said junior Hannah Jeter.
Junior Annie Sullivan recognizes that the Crusaders have a unique dynamic that is unlike most other teams. “We hold ourselves to a high standard and want to run our best, but the only way to do that is to have fun and be relaxed before the races,” said Sullivan. “We cannot be super high strung and crazy intense on the starting line because the races are so long. Teams next to us will be hyper-focused, but I love when we are dancing at the line.”
Being relaxed and having fun on the starting line helped lead the women’s team to one of their best seasons.
HIGH HOPES FROM THE BEGINNING
Head coach of the cross country program for 39 years, Jim Kavanagh knew that the 2016 season would be a special one for the Crusaders. “I think we went into the season with a lot of optimism,” said Kavanagh. “We knew that we could have a really good year, and I think we also realized that we had a lot of depth so there was the ability to overcome setbacks.”
"We all knew how much each other wanted to succeed, and I really feel that each member ran for their teammates and friends."
Senior Co-Captain Caroline Morano
That optimism trickled down to the senior co-captains, Morano and Mary Welsh, who also believed that there were many reasons to be excited early in the season. “Going into this year we knew we had a lot of talent on the team,” said Welsh. “We approached this season with higher expectations, a more competitive edge and with a team culture like that of a family.”
Like all good families, the cross country team supported each other through the tougher workouts. Morano specifically remembered the mile repeats that the team did in the beginning of the season. “In years past, the team usually spreads out quite a bit before the first rep is over,” said Morano. “However, during this particular workout, I noticed a strong group in the front, with an equally tight group just a few seconds behind. It was really exciting to see our team so close, running really quick times, so early on in the season.”
LEADING UP TO PATRIOTS
The Crusaders competed at the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh and the New England Championship before traveling to the Patriot League Championship at Lafayette. Their performance in these competitive races helped prepare them to face off against other teams in the Patriot League.
Sullivan believed that the team gained important confidence during the Paul Short meet, having finished in front of other Patriot League schools. “That meet gave us the hunger to compete with the top teams at Patriots,” said Sullivan. “It was the perfect timing because it was the best our team had ever run during this meet with a small spread between each runner. We've always wanted to run well at Patriots but after that race I think people realized that it was completely attainable to be at the top.”
Then, at New Englands the team proved its depth when senior Rachel Sowinski lost her shoe in the first 800 meters of the race. “At New Englands, we had Rachel run two miles with only one shoe on, and yet the team covered up for that, and everyone had each others’ backs,” said Kavanagh.
Because of these other races, when it came time to compete at the Patriot League Championship, the Crusaders were ready. Morano is proud of how everyone came together before the biggest race of the year. “Everyone had such a positive mentality going into the race and we all had the same common goal of placing in the top three,” said Morano. “When we heard that we placed third, I knew we had done something big. We all knew how much each other wanted to succeed, and I really feel that each member ran for their teammates and friends.”
THE FINAL RACE
There is a long break between the Patriot League Championship and ECACs. The month of training and hard workouts paid off though when the team finished second in the Championship race - their best finish ever.
Coach Kavanagh explained why the team ran in the more competitive Championship division this year. “When people asked me why we were running in the Championship race at ECACs, my response was ‘Because you’re that good,”’ said Kavanagh. “You’ve earned the right to run against the best people.”
Welsh could not have imagined a better way to end her cross country career. “I will never forget when everyone ran over to Coach Kavanagh with our second place trophy,” said Welsh. “The whole team came in for a hug, and we couldn't have been more excited.”
For many of the women on the team, the cross country team is their biggest support system on campus as many of them live together and help one another beyond running.
“To me, the team means family,” said Jeter. “Women’s cross country is truly a small group of brilliant, wonderful people, and we all support and look out for one another. We spend a lot of time together with runs and practice and then choose to spend more time together afterwards. From contemplating coach Kavanagh’s jokes, to Sunday morning long runs, to mega-beds, we’re together through it all. I would not be the same person without Holy Cross cross country and am truly blessed to be a member of this community.”
Sullivan knows that the cross country team is a defining part of her identity at Holy Cross. “The team means everything to me,” said Sullivan. “I see the women on the team as teammates, role models and friends, and I think because of that, we always want to run our best that day, not for ourselves, but for each other.”
Coach Kavanagh recognizes that cross country is often mistakenly viewed as an individual sport. He believes that the 26 runners on the team always race for each other. “Our strength is how much we care about each other and that allows us to be extremely supportive,” said Kavanagh. “What makes Holy Cross special is that we have a really high-quality type person here who truly does care about other people. Ultimately what it comes down to is for us to believe in each other.”
The women of the Holy Cross cross country team did not know the type of success they would have this season. And they did not know when coming to the Hill that they were not only signing up to be part of a team, but a family.