Breaking Through

By Adam Doucette

After seven straight 2nd place finishes, the Huskies finally snap William & Mary’s 20-year CAA Championship streak

A pandemic-altered season. An opponent’s 20 year conference championship streak. And a chance to cement a legacy in Northeastern athletics history with only a second ever conference title. 

An incredibly rare combination of variables that just happened to be the exact situation the men’s cross country team found themselves in last winter. While the Huskies have had their eye on William & Mary’s 20 year win streak for a few seasons, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cross country season, usually run in the fall, was shifted to the winter.

After seven straight years of coming in second place, the Huskies, led by junior Alex Korczynski and graduate student Cam Dickson, finally won their first ever CAA Cross Country Championship. Korczynski and Dickson were the first two to cross the finish line for the Huskies, placing second and third behind Hofstra’s Alex Masai.

“Turning around at the finish line was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Dickson said. “Four weeks before that we didn’t know if we were going to be racing much at all this season. To turn around to see everyone come in together was awesome.”

The Huskies placed five runners in the top 10, including sophomore Patrick Mullen in fifth, junior Matthew Schaefer in seventh, and senior Eric Clay in 10th.

It wasn’t an easy year for the Huskies though, and the coronavirus pandemic altered many aspects of the season. 

“There was nothing typical at all about the entire year,” associate head coach Matt Lonergan said. “We practiced outside all year, regardless of the weather because we had zero indoor facilities.” 

In the fall, running outside wouldn’t be too much of a problem. But in the winter in Boston, things can get dicey.

“It was kind of back to the high school hard winter training routes,” Dickson said. “It doesn’t matter what it is, on Tuesday and Friday you go outside and you run a workout. In Boston you get sleet and disgusting mush that you’re sliding around in and then all of a sudden it will freeze overnight and you’re in trouble.”

It was often a challenge to find places where there weren’t cars that salted the roads and paths so they could run after a snowstorm.

“It was a big task for us to actually make sure we got in the work in those types of conditions. A lot of times, it was really brutal,” Korczynski said.

Another challenge posed by this season was the lack of meets, and the lack of knowing if and when those meets would happen. It was an ever-evolving situation that required everyone on the team to adapt and be flexible. Meets were prone to getting cancelled and teams were sometimes forced to drop out when coronavirus tests came back positive and athletes had to quarantine. 

“I like to train for something, not just train for the sake of training,” Lonergan said. “So it makes it really tricky to structure the training and focus the training on preparing for events, when there are no events to prepare for.”

Because of this, they structured in time trials to take the place of meets. It gave the team something to work toward. 

Although there were only two cross country meets, there were also track and field meets because the two seasons overlapped this year. This made training more difficult for some athletes because training for long distance cross country races like the 8k looks different than training for mid distance track events. 

Masks were another hurdle that the team had to face over the course of the season. Playing a high intensity sport with a mask on is never easy, but the nature of cross country made it a particular challenge. 

“Other sports don’t run at a high percentage of their maximum output, as long as we do, as often as we do,” Lonergan explained. “It’s not like we run and then we just kind of stand there, we just keep going. As you sweat and the masks get wet, the guys have talked about how it’s like getting waterboarded.”

For Dickson, one of the hardest parts of the coronavirus affected season was not being able to be with his teammates as much as usual.

“The hardest part is definitely losing your teammates,” he said. “We were training with only the people we lived with for quite a while. We have two or three apartments on the team and we didn’t see each other for months.”

Despite all of these challenges, the Huskies managed to secure their first CAA title in school history. In Dickson’s final season with the team, it was particularly sweet. 

“If you’re fit enough and everybody’s been working well enough together in training, eventually you find your groups in front of theirs… Once you have a leg up on them, all you’ve got to do is not let go.”