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.

"To me that says that I have the fitness right now to be able to close hard really no matter how the race goes out," Black said.

MEN'S TRACK AND FIELD

Bates' LePage and McCauley were again right on Black's heels at last weekend's New England Open Championship 800 meters. LePage ran a 1:50.63 and McCauley, a junior, was fifth in 1:50.90. Both times should be fast enough to make the NCAA championship field.

They were also the second and third fastest times by a Bates 800 runner. LePage and McCauley also helped Bates set the Open New England meet record in the 4x800 relay (and shatter the Bates mark) with a winning time of 7:30.45.

• Craig Robinson of Scarborough, a senior at Bentley, finished 18th in the men's 5,000 meters at the New England Open.

• Tufts senior Matt Rand of Cape Elizabeth was fourth in the NESCAC 10,000 meters race in late April.

WOMEN'S TRACK AND FIELD

Stonehill College sophomore Maria Curit of Biddeford finished eighth in the long jump with a leap of 17 feet, 11.75 inches at the New England Open Championships. Curit just missed making the final of the 400 meters. She had the ninth-fastest prelim time of 56.57 seconds.

SOFTBALL

Valparaiso freshman catcher Janelle Bouchard was named the Most Valuable Player of the Horizon League conference tournament.

The 2012 Kennebunk High grad went 9 for 17 as Valpo lost its tourney opener, then won five straight for its second straight league title and NCAA Division I bid. In the clinching 11-9 win against Youngstown State, Bouchard went 3 for 3 with five RBI. After hitting a two-run double off the top of the center-field wall, she dented the center-field scoreboard with a two-run homer and later added an RBI groundout and a double.

For the tournament Bouchard was 9 of 17 with four runs, four doubles, one triple, one homer and 10 RBI. Valparaiso will meet host University of Michigan in its regional opener on Friday night. Central Michigan and California are also in the double-elimination regional.

WOMEN'S LACROSSE

Wheaton College junior Leila Mills of Brunswick was named to the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association Berkshire All-Region team.

• Guilford (N.C.) College junior Lily Colley of Wells was a second-team pick for the IWLCA All-Chesapeake Region team and was also a first-team All-Old Dominion Conference selection. Colley finished the season among the top 10 in Division III scorers with 6.53 points per game and 111 total points on 72 goals and a team-record 39 assists.

Colley's twin sister, Becca, a three-year starter at midfield, was a third-team All-ODAC pick after her 33-goal, 10-assist season that also saw her among the league leaders in ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers.

MEN'S LACROSSE

Wheaton College sophomore Sean Finn of Kennebunk was one of five Lyons named to the Pilgrim League Academic All-Conference team. Selections were significant contributors to the team with a GPA of at least 3.25.

GOLF

Bentley freshman Malcolm Oliver of Damariscotta (Lincoln Academy) helped the Falcons finish in a tie for 10th at the NCAA Division II Atlantic/East Regional last week in Wheeling, W.Va. Oliver's three-day score of 84-78-71-233 tied for 46th in the 108-player field. His par 71 was his low round of the season and Bentley's best round of the tournament.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at scraig@mainetoday.com

Twitter: SteveCCraig

 

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