May 15, 2013

College Connections: The kindest cut in the long run

By Steve Craig scraig@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Mitchell Black of Brunswick is currently the second-fastest 800-meter runner in Division III men's track and field programs.

click image to enlarge

Getting cut from the Tufts soccer team might have been a blessing in disguise for Mitchell Black, whose talent is best suited for running.

Courtesy Tufts University

Not bad for a young man who hoped he would be a soccer player in college.

Black was a four-sport varsity athlete at Brunswick High. Good enough to be a first-team KVAC pick in basketball and soccer as a junior and senior (and basketball Player of Year as a senior).

He had talent in track and field. He won the Class A outdoor 800 meters and was sixth in the triple jump as a senior. But track was always the extra sport.

When Black was accepted to Tufts University last spring, he contacted the men's soccer coach, sent some video and was told to come out for the team.

"I ended up getting cut at the end of preseason," Black said.

Then -- and only then -- did Black decide to get in touch with Tufts men's track coach Ethan Barron.

And if he had made the soccer team?

"I probably wouldn't be running," Black said.

In the last three weeks, Black finished second in the competitive NESCAC 800 meters, won the New England Division III 800, beating several of the same runners, and last week finished third in the Open New England against Division I and Division II runners in a Tufts school-record time of 1 minute, 50.43 seconds.

"It's pretty unprecedented what Mitch has done this year," Barron said. "I can't think of anyone who has come through NESCAC -- I can't even think of anyone who has come through the New England Division III ranks -- and done what he's done as a true freshman."

Barron said he could tell right away that Black was an explosive athlete. The coach felt the transition to college competition would come quicker in the triple jump and initially felt that would be the event Black should emphasize to help Tufts at the NESCAC championship.

In a way, Barron was right. Black did place second in the triple jump at the NESCAC meet and the Jumbos won their first outright title since 1991.

What neither coach nor athlete foresaw was that Black could cut nearly 7 seconds off his high school PR.

"I think it's pretty unbelievable," said Black, the eldest of Mitchell and Martha Black's four children.

"Training seriously has made all the difference," Black said. "In high school I would go to practice and then I'd go home and kind of play one-on-one in the yard with my brother and not get the rest that I needed. I ran but I was not really focused on it. Now it's changed."

One thing that has stayed the same is Black's competitiveness and will to win. That was on display at the D-III championships, held at Colby College, when he was in a heat that included Bates College's duo of former Greely High standouts James LePage and Mark McCauley.

"The 1:50 he ran this week was impressive," Barron said. "The 1:52 he ran at Colby was way more impressive. He led that wire-to-wire and he had a couple of All-Americans coming strong on him. For a freshman to have the guts to lead wire-to-wire and the grit to actually do it; that was amazing. A lot of coaches came up to me and were very impressed with what Mitch was able to do."

Black's next race will be at the NCAA championships at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, May 23-25.

Black said throughout his PR race last weekend he felt he was going too slow, only to end up besting his previous best by 2 seconds with a hard charge over the final 250 meters capped with an extra burst in the final 100.

(Continued on page 2)

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