NECC Champion Women's Cross Country Team (l-r): Katherine Graham, Paulina Sandoval-Alvarez, Olivia Binette, Michelle Hutter and Hannah Nangle
The Lesley women’s cross country team outpaced the competition on Saturday to become the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Champions, besting Mitchell College 25 to 42.
Freshman Olivia Binette took second place overall, finishing the 5K in 21:15, just seconds behind Mitchell’s Lara Jacobs and earning the title Rookie of the Year.
Binette’s teammates weren’t far behind her on the course at New England College. Freshman Hannah Nangle and sophomore Paulina Sandoval-Alvarez took the third and fourth spots, finishing at 21:46 and 23:05, respectively. All three earned places on the All-Conference First Team. Sophomore Katherine Graham came in sixth place, narrowly missing All-Conference honors, but with a still impressive 25:25 time. Sophomore Michelle Hutter was the final runner for the Lynx and came in eleventh to complete an outstanding showing by the women’s team.
"When the team won we were all so excited," says Binette. "We thought we had a chance of winning but didn’t want to go into the race expecting that to happen. It was nice to see that our hard work paid off."
Back to school
The accomplishment would be significant on a “regular” year, but due to the pandemic, the team came into the season after almost two years without group practices or competitions. On top of that, the young team was comprised of freshmen and sophomores, who hadn’t competed at the collegiate level due to COVID.
“It was definitely a learning experience, I think for all of us,” says Coach Daniel Selsky. “A growth mindset was what we were trying to instill throughout the season.”
The runners were motivated from the start.
“The women spoke early on about aspiring to be like a Tufts or MIT program – they’re usually some of the top in the country for cross county. The fact that they were talking about that inspired me,” says Selsky, who is still fairly new to the team as well.
Formerly a head coach at Hunter College in New York City and an assistant coach at Emmanuel College in Boston, he joined Lesley’s coaching staff right before the pandemic started. Until this year, most of his coaching for the Lynx had been via Zoom.
A few students opted to come to come to campus and train last year, but most stayed home. Selsky used Zoom to recruit students and to meet with the team. He gave the team exercises if they wanted to practice but encouraged them to do what was healthy for them.
“There are much bigger things going on in the world and getting out for a run is not the most important thing right now,” he told them.
Clearly, Selsky’s care for his runners and his recruiting paid off. Fellow coaches voted him NECC Coach of the Year.
“I always feel a little awkward with these awards,” Selsky says. “It was humbling and I’m grateful for the vote from my coaching peers for that honor, but the student athletes did the work.”
Additionally, on the men’s team sophomore Zachary Spatz was the first 8K finisher for Lesley and fifth finisher overall, with a 36:04 time. He earned a place on the NECC All-Conference First Team.