METHUEN — With the league meet on Oct.17 at Essex Aggie, the Presentation of Mary Academy cross country team may just run themselves into something they haven’t done since 1997 — a Commonwealth Athletic Conference championship.
The Panthers are 7-1 this season with their only loss against Notre Dame Tyngsboro, which races in the highly competitive Merrimack Valley Conference.
“I’m thrilled with the entire team,” said coach Brian Martin. “Everybody is really running well and working hard.”
In his 10th year, Martin said the runners prepared themselves for the season by training throughout the summer.
“In cross country, if you don’t run over the summer, you can’t really have a solid season,” said Martin, a Methuen resident. “You have to work really hard over the summer and this particular year I had 80 percent of the returning athletes do 75 percent or more of the suggested running program. That’s phenomenal to me because it was 95 degrees almost every day in the summer.”
Regardless of the training schedule, Martin says it’s not about winning.
“My goal is to get somebody to feel good about themselves through cross country,” Martin said. “That’s more important than seeing somebody win a race.”
Freshman Danielle Silva is a perfect example of that philosophy.
“When I first started (running) I could barely do 8 minutes,” the Methuen resident said. “The other day I did 50 (minutes). That tells you a lot about coach. He’s definitely a really great coach.”
Martin said the motto for the team, “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable,” is an important part of cross country.
“Cross country is all about getting comfortable with your pain,” Martin explained. “You can actually get your head to ignore the pain and keep running. If they can finish a season of cross country, everything else is going to be easier for them.”
The Panthers have only two seniors, tri-captain Liz Mulroney and Alexandra Colello, the rest of the 18 girl-team is primarily freshmen.
“This year I have nine freshmen on the team, and it’s the best freshmen class we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Martin said. “The freshmen class just puts a smile on my face. They’re great kids who have really bought into it.”
Freshman Taylor Hume of Methuen decided to run because she saw her friends doing it. “I love it,” Hume said of her new sport. “The harder the race is the better you feel when you finish.”
Joining Mulroney as captains are juniors Ashleigh Boisvert and Jenn Brooks.
Because running is more of an individual sport, Mulroney said talking to their teammates is even more important. “When we pass people we always give them reinforcements,” Mulroney said. “We tell them they’re doing a great job and to keep running hard.”
Boisvert and Brooks said they always think positively and encourage the other runners to do the same.
Martin, who coaches softball at North Andover High School, said coaching cross country is like a vacation.
“The best part about cross country is everybody lines up and the watch doesn’t lie,” Martin said. “The parents are phenomenal with the sport. Softball is so not easy. Everybody thinks their daughter should be batting cleanup and playing shortstop, but only one kid can play that.”
Martin doesn’t seem to have much free time. The athletic director and gym teacher at St. Joseph Grammar School in Haverhill puts a whistle in his mouth and referees college basketball.
“I don’t sit around much,” Martin said.
During cross country season, Martin can be seen running with his girls through their home course at Caritas Holy Family Hospital.
“It’s a win-win for me,” Martin said. “I enjoy working with the kids. I run with them every day. I think it’s a motivator because they never know where I am so they run that much harder.”
Martin encourages all PMA students to try running.
“As long as you give me 100 percent, I don’t care if you never win a race,” Martin said. “Just come out and whatever your goals are, we’ll try and help you obtain them.”