Stonehill senior Stephen Polito of Worcester thought his 11th-place performance at last month's New England Championships was his breakout race, but Skyhawks cross-country coach Karen Boen respectfully disagrees with that assessment.
"We've seen it coming for a while," Boen said. "I was absolutely thrilled for him, but I wasn't surprised."
Earning All-New England honors (top 15) for the first time was one of Polito's biggest goals this fall. He covered the 8K course at Franklin Park in Boston in 25:07 and was second among all Division 2 runners. Two weeks later, Polito finished second at the Northeast-10 Conference Championship while leading the Stonehill men's team to its second conference title in the last three years.
"The New Englands was a confidence booster," said Polito, a Doherty High graduate. "To achieve two more goals at conference was sweet."
Polito, a team captain, is preparing for Saturday's NCAA Division 2 Regionals, which will also be held at Franklin Park. He finished ninth at last year's regionals.
Polito had a solid and consistent first three years at Stonehill, but he knew more was possible.
"I knew it wouldn't just come to me," he said. "It would take a lot of work."
Polito, who won the Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K in June, changed his approach to training over the summer.
"My goal was to train consistently and not overtrain and not be too mental about it," he said. "The last couple of seasons I've been over-thinking things too much and I was married to my watch, really concerned with hitting exact times for runs and exact mileages for weeks. This summer, I stopped looking at my watch and just went off how I felt and that's what I'm still doing now."
Polito began the season with a top-30 finish at the National Catholic Championships at Notre Dame and improved his times from a year ago at both the New England and NE-10 championships.
"He's a great student of the sport," Boen said. "He listens so intently. When he came in as a freshman, you could just sense how much he wanted to be one of the best guys. He never brought a lot of attention to himself, he's not that kind of a person, but he really would almost emulate any of the guys who were our top runners."
Polito became the top runner himself.
"The hard work paid off and it's very helpful when you have a supportive team and coach and family cheering you on," Polito said.
Polito's parents, Karen and Martin, and his younger sister, Stephanie, are at every race. Stephanie, a senior at Doherty, is Polito's No. 1 fan and has taken on the role of the Stonehill cross-country team's unofficial official photographer. She takes pictures at every race and immediately tags and organizes them for easy viewing on Facebook.
Polito was a two-time Inter-High cross-country champion and a T&G all-star at Doherty. He keeps in touch with Highlander coach Dan Rushton, who is one of his biggest supporters. Polito also captained the Highlanders.
"I believe he has three virtues of a great leader," Rushton said. "He has tremendous work ethic. He has the ability to motivate other runners to get the most out of their abilities and he truly cares about his teammates."
A member of the National Honor Society in high school, Polito, who is a graphic design major, continues to excel academically. He is a Dean's List student and has also earned NE-10 academic accolades.
Understandably, Polito wants his final cross-country season to go on for as long as possible. He'll be eyeing a trip to the NCAA Division 2 Championships later this month.
"It's been a very good season, a great last season of cross-country for me," Polito said. "The team is a great bunch of young guys and everyone is running great."
June 21, 2012 Polito Named Capital One Academic All-American
February 9, 2012 Six Skyhawks Earn USTFCCCA All-Academic Honors
February 8, 2012 Polito Earns Second NE-10 Sport Excellence Award
November 19, 2011 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: Stonehill Finishes 21st Overall
November 18, 2011 BROCKTON ENTERPRISE: Stonehill cross country teams headed to nationals
November 15, 2011 EAGLE TRIBUNE: "Reliable Waller making a name at Stonehill"
November 6, 2011 Skyhawks Clinch Ninth-Straight Trip To Nationals
October 24, 2011 Boen Named Men’s and Women’s NE-10 Coach of the Year
October 23, 2011 #23 Stonehill Captures Fifth NE-10 Championship
October 8, 2011 Skyhawks Finish 13th At New England Championships
September 26, 2011 Gordon Named NE-10 Rookie Of The Week
September 24, 2011 Stonehill Runs To Third Place Finish At Codfish Bowl
September 16, 2011 Skyhawks Finish 6th Overall at National Catholic Championships
September 12, 2011 Gordon Earns NE-10 Rookie Of The Week Honors
September 10, 2011 #20 Stonehill Takes Shacklette Invitational