Thursday, December 5, 2013
BIDDEFORD — Ron Ouellette read the recruiting survey last spring and wasn't sure what to think. An incoming freshman wanted to join his women's cross country team when she arrived on the University of New England campus for her freshman year. She was pitching herself.
Michaela Moran is new to collegiate cross country running, but she’s off to a quick start for UNE, winning the UNE Invitational two weekends ago.
University of New England Photo
Ouellette looked at the name that didn't ring bells: Michaela Moran. He looked to see if she included any history of her running career. She hadn't because she didn't really have one.
Moran met Ouellette on accepted student day, after high school seniors pass through the admissions process. She told him she was a cheerleader. Fall sports and winter sports for four years.
Oh, said Ouellette to himself. A cheerleader. He doesn't deny the athleticism and commitment of cheerleaders. But how does a background in cheering prepare you to race distances of between three and four miles?
Moran was the lead UNE runner in a season-opening duel with St. Joseph's College, finishing second overall. She won the UNE Invitational two weekends ago. Quite the debut and encore for a novice runner who stands all of 5-foot-3.
Moran doesn't quite know what to make of her opening act, either. "I love running," she said before Tuesday's practice. Ask her to be more specific and she can't. She'd run before cheerleading practice at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H. She has run a few road races.
She's competitive, but her quick smile hides it well. Ask her about tactics or strategy and the smile comes back with a shrug. "I'm more concerned about how I run my race. I don't know the runners (from other schools). I don't have any strategies. I try to stay up front."
Tell her it sounds like she's flying by the seat of her pants and her face lights up again. Yes, that would seem to be accurate. "I get motivated when I'm with the other runners. I use it to fuel me."
She's really just learning about pack running and the jostling that can happen in the big invitational meets. She's learning about pacing. "I listen to my body. I just kind of go."
During the 20 minutes or so of running the course, Moran will pray. "I'm Catholic and I believe in prayer." Especially late in races when her muscles start to cry out. Novice or not, she's entering the same so-called pain cave most runners experience. "Prayer takes my mind off the pain."
She's not self-conscious. There is little pretense about her.
"She's refreshing," said Ouellette. He grinned the grin of a man who has been surprised. He is beginning his 13th season as UNE's cross country coach. He coached for many years at Biddeford High. Yet he didn't see her coming.
No one can tout Moran as the next great runner. Not after a sampling of just two NCAA Division III race meets. But UNE was a good team last year, runners-up in the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship meet. Ouellette had a good nucleus returning. And now he has Moran, an applied exercise science major.
"She does a core workout that awes her teammates. I watch the race and here's this (18-year-old) kid following (the leader) around. She doesn't ask herself, did I go out too fast, can I finish? She doesn't think. I've had some runners who think through every step. She's out there having a ball."
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