Stevens Leads The ‘Pac

Stevens Leads The ‘Pac
By Zach Smart

For the Quinnipiac women’s cross-country program, it’s become a daily regimen. Starting early in the afternoon—on the outside of the old, creaky Burt Kahn basketball court—a scattered core of harriers fills the hallway. After undergoing a crucial stretching routine, the scene changes. A cluster of runners roll out to the center of campus, forming the pack that has helped make the Bobcats such a unique threat to every team on the eastern seaboard this fall.

Mid-way through the brisk workout, the inevitable emerges. Kristin Stevens establishes a comfortable lead on her teammates before breaking free from the pack. She then escapes the pack, darting off in the distance. Like Forrest Gump around the country, like an elementary school child chasing an ice cream truck, she’s out.

The lead that started out an arm’s length away from a teammate soon becomes insurmountable. Stevens surfaces from the set en route to sprinting out the straight-aways, as another practice concludes.

It’s a scenario that typifies the tradition and success of a program that’s currently ranked seventh in the New England Collegiate Cross Country Poll.

“We definitely have some friendly competition on our team,” said Stevens, the reigning 2006 Northeast Conference individual champion. The second-year standout hasn’t missed a beat from last season, despite suffering a stress fracture that limited her summer training.

“Being competitive with one another, it forces us to run faster and its definitely a good benefit to our team, I mean look what we’ve done so far.”

Look at what Stevens has done so far.

The rangy sophomore coasted to a first-place finish at the Quinnipiac Invitational on Sept. 21 and finished second at the Ted Owen invitational.

Stevens sits on a bench outside the Burt Kahn and says little about herself or her individual accolades and personal aspirations. When asked about the team as a functional cross-country unit, her tone changes.

She says she’s never been on such a close-knit team that’s become a surrogate family to her.

Never.

Not even while helping lead New Jersey perennial powerhouse Roxbury High to back-to-back state titles, as she did during her junior and senior years.

Back then, Stevens played second-fiddle to N.C. State’s Jennifer Ennis. The two grew up together in Succasunna, N.J., an established cross-country/track breeding ground located in Morris County, and have been best friends ever since. Stevens—a heavily pursued prospect on the recruiting market—could have taken the same route as Ennis, committing early to an ACC or Big East program.

But she chose Quinnipiac over UConn for its team harmony, the family atmosphere of the program, and its Physical Therapy department. Its a move she said she’ll never regret.

Head coach Shawn Green has already pegged Stevens as the latest stallion in the program’s rich bloodlines, explaining that her instant impact at the Division-I tier is unprecedented.

“We’ve never had a runner as fast as Kristen at this point in her career,” said Green. “She has finished higher than any other athletes at this point in her career. She has handled the responsibility of being the team’s top runner.”

As Quinnipiac’s first recruit to run a sub-five mile since legendary All-American Katie Gwyther (Class of ’06), Stevens arrived on campus with hyperbolic lure circling her name.

Pressure?

“I was anxious coming into the first meet,” said Stevens, referring to the 2006 Quinnipiac Invitational. Stevens missed the first two races prior to this, nursing an ankle injury.

Stevens might have fended off those waves of anxiety after taking a powerful lead 200-meters into the race, one that she wouldn’t come close to relinquishing. As a callow freshman, Stevens cruised to a first-place finish in front of a home crowd.

Since then, she’s filled the leadership void left by Gwyther. In just her second season, Stevens is constantly drawing comparisons to Gwyther, a friend and mentor who helped sell her on Quinnipiac.

“Katie is a great role model,” explained Stevens. “If I could accomplish anything she’s accomplished, I’d just be so happy. I saw how she came into her career and how she left. It’d be a honor to be mentioned (alongside Gwyther).”

Injuries have played a substantial role in slowing her progression on the winter and spring track circuit. She believes cross-training workouts will pay dividends in keeping her healthy. In high school, Stevens anchored a 4×100 relay team that won the national championship. She’s hoping to make a robust impact on this level, just as she’s done with cross-country.

In Green’s office, a well-decorated shelf of hardware makes its presence felt. Glistening ornaments are showcased—trophies, plaques, glass cups, and batons of blue luster which represent NCAA championship appearances.

Sitting below the shelf is a certificate that dwarfs all of the above. It reads: “Kathryn Gwyther: All-American.”

When the 2007 cross-country campaign concludes, Green might just need a bigger office.

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