After an impressive fourth place finish in the state tournament, the cross country team is looking to carry the momentum into EA Day.
“Finishing fourth was awesome, but the team that won the whole thing was EA, so we certainly have an uphill battle, but it’s one that we’re ready for,” Head Coach Mr. Michael Toomey said.
To prepare for the Churchmen, Coach Toomey designed a specific training plan for the two weeks leading up to the race.
“The intensity that we run will be the same, the frequency as far as the days we run will be the same, but we’ve really started to cut the volume. The biggest focus is on staying healthy and not getting sick,” Coach Toomey said. “We have a team day for yoga planned with Ms. Stinson, so we’re trying to keep it fun while still getting in the work.”
“We’re doing yoga to get our minds centered, stretch our bodies, give them [the runners] a break, but also allow our joints and muscles to be mobile,” Assistant Coach Ms. Barbara LaPenta said.
While training and exercises make up part of the EA Day preparation, Sixth Form Captains Ben Szathmary ’22 and Colin Stewart ’22 will help prepare the team for the mental side of the race.
“I just have to be positive and be intentional at every practice and just keep everyone’s head straight,” Szathmary said.
“I think Ben and I were chosen because we’ve been on the team and we’ve been a part of the distance running community at Haverford,” Stewart said. “Our job on Saturday [EA Day] isn’t to necessarily get people hyped up, but instead to remind them why we’re running and who we’re running for.”
Part of the task at hand includes preparation for the raucous crowd that will be on hand for the Fords race against EA.
“They’ve gotten really good at blocking out that extra stuff that doesn’t really matter,” Coach Toomey said. “They’re not focused on anything else except what they need to do to run hard.”
While the mental side of running can often be a problem, the coaches have no doubt that their captains will prepare the rest of the runners.
“Those two [Colin and Ben] have been unbelievable,” Coach Toomey said. “They’ve not only taken care of the business of running and leading the team and guiding us to a fourth place finish at states, but they’ve also had a big role in developing our younger runners.”
“They [Colin and Ben] have to balance what our [the coaches] expectations of the team are and they need to command their peers, which is really tough sometimes,” Coach LaPenta said. “But, I think they’ve done it with grace, they balance each other really well. They’ve shown leadership and tenacity.”
Apart from the Sixth Form Captains, one runner that has impressed both coaches this season is Fifth Former Colin Kelly.
“[Colin Kelly] put in some serious summer training. He probably ran more than anybody this summer, and it has shown,” Coach Toomey said. “Usually you look for improvements of thirty second or twenty seconds, but he’s literally improved by minutes from last year.”
“[Kelly] has just taken the time to actually buy into the program and do the workouts and do them right,” Coach LaPenta said. “He has gone from one of our guys who would run a 20-22 minute 5k, and now he is breaking 18-19 and is one of our top-seven guys. So, he is the poster child for what this program can do.”
Kelly’s drastic improvements can be attributed to a challenge from Coach Toomey.
“In a July summer workout, Coach Toomey said that he would be giving out 200-mile club t-shirts for the month of August,” Kelly said. “Basically, if any of us were to run 200 miles total throughout that month of August, he would buy those people a shirt that says ‘200 mile club’ on it.”
For the first two weeks of August, Kelly ran about 6.5 miles each day. Then, a roadblock to Kelly’s goal arised.
“I got a hip flexor injury in the middle of August and I was out of running for three to four days. So, for those last ten days of August, I had to run eight or nine miles a day, and somehow I managed to do it… I look at this challenge I completed, and I think it may be one of my greatest accomplishments,” Kelly said. “I’m very proud of it.”
Kelly is just one of many runners who have impressed the coaching staff this season.
“We’ve definitely outperformed where I’d thought we would be,” Coach Toomey said. “I wasn’t too sure coming off of last year, having that shortened season with COVID, so we missed an entire class of runners last year with what happened.”
“We’re all super excited, and I think the pressure is going to help, having everyone there, supporting us.”Colin Kelly ’23
Going into EA Day, all members of the team are aware of the talent they are going up against. Still, the Fords remain confident.
“We know our course better than they do, we are smarter runners than they are, so at the end of the day we just have to make better decisions than them. We don’t have to be physically faster,” Stewart said.
“We’re all super excited, and I think the pressure is going to help, having everyone there, supporting us, and cheering at the beginning and end when we start and finish on the Haverford track,” Kelly said.
“We are the underdogs on paper, but we have a really good team, and our kids are going to race,” Coach Toomey said. “So, EA will have to come in and have a good race to beat us.”