On Saturday, Oct. 7 at Franklin Park in Boston, the Stonehill College men’s cross-country program achieved a new milestone. The Skyhawks raced past 26 other teams, including Div. I programs such as the University of Massachusetts (Amherst and Lowell), Northeastern University, and Central Connecticut State to win the NEICAAA New England Championship team title.
Leading the pack for Stonehill was senior Jimmy Murphy. The Mansfield alum finished in fifth place overall in his first season competing in the varsity version of the race (he finished fifth in the junior varsity race last year) in a time of 25:29. He earned his first cross-country All-New England honor in the process.
Stonehill totaled 119 points, winning the race by five points over second place MIT.
“It was awesome,” said Murphy in a phone interview from the Easton campus this week. “It was humbling. To be the first, it was just a really cool experience.”
He added, “This is something I’ll always remember. It was a total team effort.”
While on the course, Murphy had no way of knowing where Stonehill stood as a team, but passing the three-mile mark he knew that he was in 15th place individually and still feeling strong. Murphy started to push and started to pass other runners, eventually moving up 10 places into the top five, surprising even himself.
“It came as a total surprise,” Murphy admitted. “I’ve been dedicated over the last year. I knew I was in better shape than last year and I just wanted to score as high as I could for the team.”
As the race drew to a conclusion, the Skyhawks huddled together waiting for the final results to see where they ended up. The expectation, judging by where everyone finished, was that the Skyhawks were around the top five.
“One of the guys heard it kind of quietly, so I went up and asked,” said Murphy about the wait for the announcement. Once the team had the victory confirmed, Murphy said, “We just lost it. Guys were jumping around…We’re going up against DI teams. It was awesome.”
What makes Murphy’s impact on the team surprising is that he did not compete in cross-country until he arrived on the Stonehill campus. Despite the efforts of the Mansfield track and field coaches to persuade Murphy that he would be successful on the already strong Hornets cross-country team, he refused to hang up his soccer cleats.
Murphy was twice named a Hockomock League all-star on the pitch and his senior year was named a HockomockSports.com Best XI performer and Eastern Mass. All-Star in the heart of the Hornets midfield. While he ran indoor and outdoor track, Murphy also played club soccer in the spring and summer and was considering continuing soccer at the collegiate level before deciding on Stonehill.
When asked about switching from soccer to cross-country, Murphy admitted with a chuckle, “Soccer will always be my first love. Running is a close second though.”
Even during his high school track career, Murphy was more of a middle distance runner, so there was a transition period for him in college, as he stretched into longer distances and started running cross-country for the first time as a sophomore.
“The training really got ramped up,” he explained. Now, he was running as much as 80-85 miles a week, about double what he was running at any point in high school. “A long as you can handle the training, you’ll make improvements,” he continued.
Murphy said that it clicked for him during his junior year, while running the steeple, and that his mental toughness is much higher than it was when he first started. “My coaches said that I was running not to lose,” he said. “I wasn’t being aggressive enough. Now, I don’t get too nervous when I’m out there.”
That improvement showed earlier this year when he finished second in the Div. II/III Challenge at the Kutztown University (Pa.) Farm Course, helping the Skyhawks bring home the team title. The New England Championships were another step for Murphy, but he admits that the upcoming Northeast-10 Conference Championship on Oct. 22 at Stanley Park in Westfield, Mass. mean a little more for the team. “It’s more personal,” Murphy said.
Coming off the team title at the New England Championships, Stonehill is the favorite heading into the NE-10 race. The Skyhawks are now ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Association (USTFCCA) East Region poll and 15th in the national rankings. A poll of the league’s 15 coaches had Stonehill on top with 180 points, four more than American International College (AIC).
Murphy knows that polls will not mean victory. He said, “We know that teams, especially AIC, are gunning for us,” adding, “They don’t have a bad day twice. (AIC finished in 11th at the New England Championships; the second best NE-10 team.). We’ll be ready.”
UPDATE – On Sunday, Stonehill captured its ninth men’s cross-country NE-10 Conference Championship title with a solid team performance, narrowly edging AIC by two points. Stonehill had six of its seven runners finish in the top 21 (out of nearly 150 runners), including Murphy, who finished sixth overall in a time of 25:23.18 and earned his first All-Conference honor. Next up is the Div. II East Regional at Daemen College (Amherst, N.Y.) on Nov. 4.