When senior captain Heather Hoglund stepped to the starting line of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship cross-country race, there was only one thing on her mind.
“My goal was to smile when I crossed the finish line,” Hoglund said. “ I didn’t set any time limits for myself, and since it was my last race, I just wanted to smile at the end, and I did that.”
Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams had plenty to be happy about as they entered into the GNAC race at Rivier College (N.H.) on Oct. 27 and Saturday’s Eastern Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championship at Mt. Greylock High School (Williamston, Mass.).
In the GNAC championships, Hoglund placed 22nd out of a field of 143 runners who took to the 3.1-mile course. Sophomore Ali Dokus finished fifth, leading Emerson to a sixth place finish out of 12 teams.
Hoglund said the race conditions were ideal, and the enthusiasm among her teammates created the perfect atmosphere to compete.
“The girls were just generally excited for every meet that we went into,” the visual and media arts major said. “It was the last race that all the girls got to run together. We were singing and dancing at the start line; we always have this joke that we’re the most spirited team.“
This was the second time that the runners took to Rivier’s course; the Lions traveled to New Hampshire in September for a regular-season meet, which both Hoglund and men’s and women’s cross-country head coach John Furey said was an advantage.
In the GNAC race, Kyle Oppenheimer placed second after nearly five miles, while his teammate Chris Colon placed 17th out of 84 runners. The Lions placed fourth overall out of seven scoring teams.
Furey said he believes the Emerson 2012 men’s team to be his best team ever.
“My thought going in was that Emmanuel would win and it would be between us, Norwich, and Johnson & Wales for second,” Furey said. “We would have to run almost perfect across the board. Almost every kid on the team ran their best for five miles. When that happens, you have to be happy.”
As for the women’s side, Furey said that the depth of the field overall was very impressive, and that this year’s team had a solid effort and built a good foundation for next year.
In the ECAC race, the Emerson men finished in 21st place out of 43 teams, while the women earned 28th in a field of 41 schools.
This year’s success, according to the coach, was because of the depth of talent and dedication of runners on both sides.
“We have seven or eight runners that are really good,” Furey said. “If some of the kids aren’t having a good race, you don’t have to rely on the top five. There was a lot of work during the off-season — kids trained hard going back to last winter and kept it rolling during the summer.”
Furey, while praising his teams’ success, acknowledged that running cross-country is a big commitment.
“It’s not a sport like golf where it’s just based on skill,” Furey said. “You have to train year-round. We have kids who get better year-round. All of the pieces need to be healthy and well-balanced.”
He described the dedication of his runners, who attend 6:45 a.m. practices a couple times a week.
“The practices during the season are early in the morning,” Furey said. “It’s mentally and physically demanding on a week in, week out basis. It starts to become a grind. There’s no question that these kids get strong and fit, and it makes them better people overall.”
Furey said that strong captaining by Hoglund, Lauren Cortizo, and Regina Lutskiy on the women’s team and Dan Diaz, Oppenheimer, and Brendan Stackhouse on the men’s made his job as a coach that much easier.
“Both sides had tremendous leadership just in terms of motivating the kids, keeping in constant contact during the offseason,” Furey said. “We’ll definitely miss them tremendously.”
For Hoglund, a two-year captain, running in her final collegiate meet was particularly special after a broken knee kept her from running her freshman year. She said it was her fellow teammates who influenced her decision to join the team in the first place.
“When I first came to Emerson, I was first approached by Coach Furey,” she said. “He saw my time trials from high school. After his persistence and a lot of emails, I decided to try out for the team. At the first practice, it was raining cats and dogs and he had me run a time trial around Boston Common. After meeting the coach and all the girls, you’re hooked.”
Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.