As a member of the Founders League, the Kent Cross Country teams are very excited to resume interscholastic competition with other schools. Mr. Baird, the Varsity Girls Coach, looks forward to invitationals for their dynamic and energy with many athletes racing. Usually, all athletes participate in every race, with the exception of varsity races in which only the top seven runners compete. At the end of the season, they strive for the Founders League Championship and New England Championship Division 2. Divisions are based on school size, with D1 including the largest schools and D2 the second-largest schools.
Practicing five times a week and racing on the sixth, the Girls Varsity Cross Country team has different activities every day, making practicing interesting and exercising different energy systems. They just finished the base-building period, in which they increase their running mileage. Currently, the girls do hill workouts, speed work, 5k pacing, and distance runs. Once in a while, they lift and exercise their abs. The Boys Varsity Cross Country team also does a variety of activities during practice, going to new places every Monday, such as Macedonia Park, and doing spirit runs on Fridays, in which the boys dress in special clothes and run around campus.
Having been the girls’ coach for 12 years, Mr. Baird, the English Department Chair, loves seeing runners work hard and improve, especially when one has a breakthrough in their performance, accomplishing more than they’d imagined. Progress is easily measured with a clock, and he enjoys teaching the value of hard work. However, it is challenging to decide when to push hard and when to pull back, as not every athlete is the same. For some people, cutting off early is ideal, but others need to be pushed towards the end.
Having run while he was a student and having been the boys Coach for the past 18 years at Kent, Mr. Sokolnicki, who also teaches biology, likes to bring people to nature and know them outside the classroom. He enjoys making students passionate about the sport and helping them improve. Just like Mr. Baird, Mr. Sokolnicki also tries to balance between pushing and pulling. Aside from excelling at cross country, Mr. Sokolnicki hopes his boys learn personal responsibility and that success takes hard work. “There’ll be good and bad days, but they need to keep a positive and humble attitude, looking forward to new challenges and chances of personal improvement every day,” Mr. Sokolnicki chuckled.
After doing well in a race, Mr. Baird and Mr. Sokolnicki congratulate their players and ask them how they ran faster, hoping to help them highlight their strengths in the next race. If the athletes weren’t at their best, the coaches inspire them to realize what they’ve learned in a non-emotional way, breaking down the experience into an opportunity of learning and keeping them from worrying over what they can’t control.
Aside from the coaches’ assistance, the cross country teams are closely-bonded communities. Anamu Uenishi ‘22, the captain of the Boys Varsity team, shares that the camaraderie among the students is so strong that he sometimes forgets how painful running is. When people question why he likes the sport, his response is simply: his team. Uenishi knows when to be loud and when to give individual athletes space to reflect on their own mistakes. He enjoys reciprocating the kind of leadership that his past cross country captains presented him with, such as leadership, friendliness, and guidance. At the same time, he learns to balance “leading” and “friendliness,” not wanting to always scream at his teammates while keeping his leadership heard. For Uenishi, wins and losses are the least of his worries, as “if you know that you left everything on the field, no matter the end result, you should be proud of yourself.” As the leader, he encourages his teammates to try their hardest before every racecourse so that there are no regrets. After years of running at Kent, “my cross country experience is one of the most memorable experiences at Kent school,” smiled Uenishi.