lift her to rare level
It happened in 24 hours, when a weekend in March typically reserved for bikinis and beaches presented Dartmouth College junior Abbey D’Agostino of Topsfield with an opportunity in Fayetteville, Ark. Win the 5,000-meter NCAA indoor championship on Friday night, return Saturday night to capture the 3,000-meter title, and become the first American ever to win both events in a career.
D’Agostino accomplished in a single weekend what nobody else from the United States had done during four years of collegiate eligibility.
As the calendar flipped to March 10, the former Masconomet Regional runner, who sat out most of her junior and senior years of high school while battling anemia and mononucleosis, went from being a standout collegiate athlete to a national treasure.
“I didn’t realize exactly what the stakes were going into the races,” D’Agostino said. “I knew that was a pretty challenging double. But I had no idea.”
With her time in the 5,000 of 15:28.11, the fifth-fastest indoor finish by a woman in NCAA history, D’Agostino cruised past a field that included a highly regarded senior from Iowa State, Betsy Saina, who finished second more than five seconds behind her on March 8. Less than 24 hours later, D’Agostino played the favorite in the 3,000 and soared sprinted to a 9:01.08 finish.
Oregon senior Jordan Hasay called her own effort in the 3,000, when she took second more than five seconds behind D’Agostino, “probably the best race I’ve ever run’’ in an interview with LetsRun.com.
Mark Coogan , a Bishop Feehan graduate and former Olympic runner who was the first person from Massachusetts to break the 4-minute mile, has been coaching D’Agostino for two years. He’s been in a similar spot before, with an illustrious career at the University of Maryland.
The agents, the shoe companies, the sponsorships — they are all coming her way, he said. “We talk about it. There’s a lot of stuff out there.”
Entering high school at Masco, D’Agostino was an undiscovered talent, a swimmer who had never run competitively. But after a fall season on the cross-county team, coaches recognized her natural ability and urged her to consider shifting her focus to running. By her sophomore year, she had set the school record in the mile, and was named a Globe All-Scholastic after breaking the course record in cross-country.
That was the first time she started gaining widespread attention. Colleges starting watching. And even though illness hindered much of her junior and senior seasons, D’Agostino had the report cards and running ribbons to earn her a ticket to Dartmouth.
“I got mono out of my system, which was good,” she said, “and now I’m on an iron supplement’’ to take care of the anemia. “I feel fortunate. Those are pretty inevitable running issues. But they’re incredibly common, so I got out the kinks.”
After a high ankle sprain limited her freshman year at Dartmouth, D’Agostino made steady progress, setting four school records her sophomore year, including a 4:38.44 time in the mile.
She’s since won too many awards to list, but her record-setting weekend at the University of Arkansas earned her a particularly prestigious one: National Women’s Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, named by the US Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association.
“Abbey is moving into another realm right now, athletically,” Coogan said. “The one thing I do to help her — I did it myself on the Olympic team— I explained to her these other really good women are just people. They’re normal. They put their pants on the same way; their shorts, tops.
“Once you realize that, it makes a huge difference. You’re not intimidated by them. She knows that she can compete with these women.”
The success continues to breed opportunities for more. She’ll try to reclaim glory on the outdoor track this spring, with a chance to compete in the US championships if she can first win at the NCAAs. Then, top three in the US championships will give her a chance to compete at the world championships — the Olympics without the rings — in Moscow this summer.
“It’s sort of surreal,” said D’Agostino, who eats a peanut butter, almond butter and banana sandwich before every race. “I’m doing my best to take things one step at a time. I think the level of expectation definitely changes with every meet. But if I can prevent myself from receiving it in that way, as a set of expectations rather than an opportunity to race and do what I love, that change in attitude can really keep me doing it for the right reasons.
“I think one big thing is the outlook on the sport and receiving it as a lifestyle. And learning about myself through sport, that’s been a byproduct of running collegiately and having these experiences. I think it does cross over with other areas of my life. I learn how to manage my time and learn how to react in certain situations, the way I really need to take care of myself.”
Here and there
Not that he needed the award to prove it, but Steven Whitney was honored with the 61st Walter Brown Award, given to the best American-born Division 1 college hockey player in New England by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston. Whitney, the 5-foot-7 Boston College standout from Reading, is second in the nation with 25 goals in 36 games. . . North Andover native Britt Hart, who was a standout softball player at the Brooks School, tossed 6.2 innings of one-run ball to lead Bryant University to a 2-1 win over the University of Las Vegas last weekend. Hart, a 5-foot-6 senior, led Bryant with 11 wins last year. She’s 4-3 with a 3.5 ERA in nine appearances this spring.