Junior Alexander Kirkland begins his morning with 16 minutes and 54 seconds of burning pain. Every step he takes tears away at his determination. There are no breaks. There is no down time. All he can do is run. He pushes his body to the limit in an attempt to secure his team its first championship in 28 years.
Kirkland’s determination was mirrored by his teammates on the men’s varsity cross country team, and on Nov. 1 they became the 2017 MIAA B Conference champions. The team narrowly edged out Severn School, winning 43-48, to complete their undefeated season.
Kirkland led the team to victory with his second place finish. He was followed by fellow varsity runners senior Ben Sullivan (sixth), sophomore Cam Mezzatesta (ninth), junior Connor Ferrara (eleventh), senior James Gillam (fifteenth) and sophomore Michael Chipi (eighteenth). Junior Bryan Stancliff dropped out of the race due to a foot injury, but the team overcame this challenge. “The whole team ran pretty well. We had a slight problem with Bryan not finishing the race because of his foot, but the team really pulled together,” Kirkland said.
After finishing the previous two seasons in second place, there was some concern about winning championships, despite the team’s undefeated record this year. However, cross country coach Michael Monaghan was not worried. “Prior to the race, I was upbeat and confident. I knew that we had a great team,” he said.
For Sullivan, this was his last opportunity for a championship before heading off to college. He felt the only reason the team lost the championship meet in prior seasons was due to underperformance, and this year, the team had finally overcome that hindrance. “We ran how we always did, nothing changed [unlike the previous two years],” Sullivan said.
Similarly, Monaghan believed the team finally performed to the level of capability. “We usually choke, but this year we did not. It was a good rebound. We’ve been on the bubble for so long. And this year we ran exactly how we needed to,” Monaghan said.
Competing in cross country can be a difficult task due to the strain of continuously running, but for Kirkland it was even harder. “I was sick during the race, which made it difficult. I couldn’t breathe for most the race. I just kept my eyes on the runner ahead of me and made sure no one passed me,” Kirkland said.
The team believes they have a good chance at repeating next year. Many players have already begun training to prepare for next year’s season. “I plan on running indoor and outdoor track, as well as running the summer workouts. I have no doubt that we will win next year. It is not even a question,” Kirkland said.
Matt Foulk is a Sports Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.