By Dan Guttenplan
---- — The Bates College cross-country team’s coaching staff might not be done recruiting in Newburyport.
Two Newburyport High alumni represented Bates College at the NCAA Division 3 Cross-Country Championships Nov. 17 in Terre Haute, Ind. Senior captain Lindsay Cullen and sophomore John Stansel ran officially for Bates, marking the first time the Bobcats’ men’s and women’s program competed at NCAAs in the same season.
Cullen placed 134th overall in 22:58.3, placing third among her Bobcats teammates. She helped the squad to finish 19th in the nation. The Bates men tied their best finish as a program, placing sixth as a team. Stansel, who placed 43rd at Regionals one week earlier, placed 207th at Nationals in 26:27.7.
At NCAAs, Cullen called upon a running style that she learned as a high-schooler at Newburyport under Don Hennigar, joining a pack of Bates runners. The Bobcats’ second through fifth runners finished within 10 seconds of each other, fulfilling the goal of a top-20 finish as a team.
“It was similar to how Coach Hennigar would have us run in high school,” Cullen said. “We went out there, in such a big meet, and we knew we’d do well as long as well all stayed together.”
Stansel was the youngest of the Bates official runners at NCAAs. He believes he fell short of his performance at Regionals the previous weekend, but was content with his improvement from his freshman year.
“Unfortunately, I had my first bad race of the season at Nationals, but it was one of the deepest and most competitive fields I’ll race against at any point,” Stansel said. “I went out toward the back of the pack for the first 1,000 meters, and I still went out faster than I had all year. I had higher aspirations, but it wasn’t that bad.”
Stansel specialized in the 800 meters in high school, so he has slowly made the transition to distance events over two school years. He also runs indoor and outdoor track at Bates, as does Cullen.
“My coach at Bates told me my freshman year, I can’t pigeon-hole myself as a middle-distance runner,” Stansel said. “I have to be a more complete runner. I put in miles and tried events that don’t really play to my skill set. It put me in situations where I could specialize in more than middle distance.”
Cullen has always been more of a distance runner since starting her career at Newburyport High. Last spring, she came within 0.15 seconds of breaking the school record in the 5,000 meters at the New England Division 3 Outdoor Championships.
She felt fortunate to have a chance to run at NCAAs after enduring a cramp in what she deemed a disappointing performance at Regionals.
“I had a rough time at Regionals, but I had a pretty similar season to my junior year overall,” Cullen said. “I was more of a standout runner last year because we didn’t have nearly as good a team. Everybody stepped up this year, so it was more rewarding.”
Cullen and Stansel continue to excel on the local racing circuit. Both runners competed in the annual Turkey Trot at Maudslay on Thanksgiving morning. Stansel placed first among the men, and Cullen third among women.
“I took two days off, ran a little bit on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and then ran a pretty good race at the Turkey Trot,” Cullen said. “I felt rested and good, but it was definitely more of a hard run than an all-out race.”
Stansel said a local race last summer caused him to feel more confident about his prospects as a distance runner. After training 70 to 80 miles per week, he placed fifth overall at the Yankee Homecoming 5K in 16:00.
“That was one of those moments when I realized I could be a factor in cross-country,” Stansel said. “I felt I could extrapolate that performance over a longer distance. I knew we had a very talented team, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Stansel plans to train for the mile this winter; Cullen will continue to work toward the 5,000 meters.
“My coaches haven’t broken me that much,” Stansel said of becoming a distance runner during the indoor season. “I’m looking at the mile, so I’ll start doing speed and endurance training.”