|Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High senior Andrea Keklak cools down after finishing first Wednesday against Acton-Boxborough Regional and Westford Academy. (Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe)|
First in a fast crowd
Andrea Keklak on home stretch at Lincoln-Sudbury
SUDBURY — Andrea Keklak was standing in the center of the huddle, surrounded by her teammates on the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High girls’ cross-country team, introducing a new element to her precompetition routine.
Clad in a white Warriors jersey, blue and white shorts, and bright orange running spikes, the slender senior gave her first speech as a team captain.
The words were a long time coming.
“When she was one of the younger members of the team, she had good leaders to observe and learn from, but she also led through her success on the track,’’ said the team’s coach, Henry Phelan. “Now she’s the one supporting and educating her teammates and being more vocal. It’s a role she’s accepted and matured into very well.’’
A four-year varsity runner, Keklak is no stranger to the spotlight. As a freshman, she was promoted from the junior varsity squad midway through the season and helped lead Lincoln-Sudbury to its best run in program history; the Warriors won Dual County League, Eastern Mass., All-State, and regional titles before placing eighth out of 22 teams at a national competition.
Keklak took the No. 1 spot that fall, a position she still has four years later. In Wednesday’s tri-meet against Dual County rivals Acton-Boxborough Regional and Westford Academy, she propelled the Warriors to a 3-0 start with a convincing victory on their 2.75-mile home course at the high school. Her time of 16 minutes 47 seconds was comfortably ahead of teammate Marika Crowe, who took second place at 17:35.
Phelan has worked with a number of talented runners over the years, both at Lincoln-Sudbury and previously at the Bromfield School in Harvard. He says Keklak is the best all-around runner that he has coached.
“She can run anything. At one point last winter she had the fastest time in the state in the 300, 600, and 1,000,’’ said Phelan. “She runs distances, she can do the shorter races. There are only two girls I can think of in the last 20 years that won state titles in cross-country and the 300 in spring track: Andrea is one of them.’’
The other was Ari Lambie, a standout at Bromfield who became a 14-time All-American at Stanford before graduating in 2008. Phelan also coached former Globe All-Scholastic Emily Jones, now a sophomore at Georgetown, where she was recently honored as the Big East’s Athlete of the Week.
Still, Keklak earned his nod.
“Emily and Andrea are both very competitive and have an inner drive to win, which helped lead them to their success,’’ said Phelan. “But Emily is more of a pure distance runner, whereas Andrea can easily shift from different distances and win. Andrea is probably a little faster than Ari. She even placed third in javelin at the conference meet last spring. Andrea is the best athlete at Lincoln-Sudbury, best athlete in the building, male or female.’’
But offer praise to Keklak, and her humility quickly surfaces.
“It doesn’t matter how well I do if my entire team doesn’t win,’’ said the 17-year-old Sudbury resident. “I mean, I can place high up at meets, but it’s a team effort and I really like the team aspect of cross-country. That’s why I just tried to remind them of our game plan’’ during her talk in the huddle. “I said I’d pace them and then reminded them who should stay where.’’
She started competing at age 7, when her father, John, signed her up for a road race in which he was running; Keklak won her age group. Middle school track and cross-country came next. As a freshman, she was a three-season runner for the Warriors. Two younger siblings are also competitive. Her brother, Alex, is a Lincoln-Sudbury sophomore who plays soccer and runs spring track. Sister Ariel, a seventh-grader, runs cross-country at the middle school.
She spent two weeks in Germany with 19 of her classmates, studying the country’s language and culture. True to her competitive nature, she allowed the trip to fit right in with her running schedule.
“Usually I take a couple weeks off before starting my summer training, so I figured Germany would be the perfect time,’’ said Keklak. “We went the end of June to middle of July, so I had to run up until we left rather than stopping after spring track, but it all worked out. I ran a few times while there toward the end, so I’d be ready to kick things up when I got home again.’’
Keklak plans on running at the collegiate level next fall, but she is still undecided on her college choice. As for the rest of her final cross-country season as a Warrior, she has high hopes.
“We’ve got a solid team with experience and youth,’’ said Keklak. “We have what it takes to make another run and we have some awesome rivals, like Newton South, that always keep us on our toes. I definitely am excited and a bit sad for my last year here, but it’s been such a great ride so far, I just want to do my part to bring more success this season.’’
Sapna Pathak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org