Dana Hastie. Lucy and Holly Van Dalen. Olivia Burne. These are just some of the big names that have passed through the Women’s Cross Country program in the last few years, with each of them being a part of the six-peat of America East Championships that the team put together from 2007-2012. Senior Christina Melian is just continuing that tradition, and after a two-season title drought, she is looking to finish her senior season on a high note by leading her team by example on and off the track.
“We’ve been very fortunate and had a strong presence every year,” Head Coach Andy Ronan said. “Christina bought into what they were doing, and she’s continuing that tradition as a leader in the locker room and also by her performances.”
The senior finished first in the Stony Brook Season Opener, an event that will start off the Seawolves schedule again this year, and culminated her penultimate season as a collegiate track runner by finishing second in the America East Championships, helping her team to a second place finish behind the New Hampshire Wildcats.
Even with this new feeling of not winning every season, the mentality is still the same.
“We can’t let New Hampshire’s performance last year affect how we approach the season,” Ronan said. “Even when we had the streak of six going, we always went into a meet with a feeling that we were underdogs and had to perform each time.”
The Wildcats have now won two in a row, and while it is not the six that the Seawolves strung together, it is definitely a change of pace from years past.
While Stony Brook placed four runners in the top 20 of the conference championship, normally a very good number for a team event such as this, New Hampshire ran even better. The Wildcats placed nine of their 11 runners in the top 20, easily running away with the title.
This year, things might not change a whole lot. Only two of the Wildcat runners were seniors, showing that this team could again be the team to beat, giving Stony Brook an uphill battle.
“New Hampshire is a very good team, and they’re going to take a bit to be beaten,” Ronan said.
Along with Melian, fellow senior Tara Peck will look to lead Stony Brook back to the promised land. Even after injury problems last season, she still ran to a ninth-place finish at the conference championships in Maine last November.
“I think mostly what people in the locker room should be looking at is her performance last season,” Ronan said.
She started the season strong, finishing third at the Stony Brook Season Opener and eighth in the Wolfie Invitational. After struggling during the middle of the season, she came back to a strong finish in the America East Championships, a momentum she would like to carry into this season.
“It proved that if you do the work and commit to it, that’s the kind of performance you can produce,” Ronan said.
Hopefully for the team, that feeling of determination and hard work is contagious, as the four freshmen and six sophomores from last season have gotten a year older and more experienced, creating a better team.
“We can’t let New Hampshire’s performance last season affect how we approach the season,” Ronan said. “We have our own goals and we have to go about our own business.”
With big meets at Boston College and prospectively at Louisville later in the year, the Seawolves will definitely be exposed to big-time talent and be shown what it takes to escalate a team to that level.
“I can explain to them what it’s like, but the athletes have to get involved in that environment,” Ronan said.
The best teacher is experience in the sports world. Exposing these runners to big-time talent will, in the coach’s eyes, hopefully create an environment of wanting to work hard and train harder to get that America East trophy back in Stony Brook’s hands.
“What the last two results [in the conference championships] should give to the girls is that you have to commit to it,” Ronan said.
Lucy Van Dalen committed to it, and she ended up winning an NCAA individual championship in the mile en route to competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Melian and Peck are looking to run their way into the metaphorical sunset, finishing their careers the way they both started them, with an America East Championship.