Hanlon reaches the top
Former St. John's track standout tries cross country, becomes No. 1 at Stonehill
Senior Sean Hanlon helped lead the Skyhawks to the NCAA Championships for the tenth-straight season.
Every once in a while, Stonehill College's Sean Hanlon of Georgetown wonders how his cross country career would be different had he participated in the sport at St. John's Prep.
"I think about it a lot, actually," said Hanlon. "I had some small injuries in high school so I'm not sure how much I would have helped the team, but I think it would have helped me and I do wish I had done it. I would have liked it."
A middle distance runner at St. John's, with a specialty in the 600 (indoors) and 800, Hanlon didn't take up cross country until his sophomore year at Stonehill when "it was strongly suggested that I do it to help me in track."
Actually, Hanlon had contemplated running cross country as early as high school, when St. John's coach John Boyle urged him to try it, and he had already started to think that he might be better suited for longer distances.
"The guys I was running against in track were bigger, faster and had more (natural) speed," said Hanlon. "I started to realize that I might be more successful at distance, at least in the mile (in track)."
Still, when Hanlon agreed to run cross country at Stonehill, which has boasted one of the stronger Division 2 programs for years, he had no illusions of greatness.
"I didn't have any great expectations," he said. "I thought, by the time I graduated, maybe I could get in the top 7. If I didn't do it, I felt at least I'd have a good base for track."
Well, Hanlon has accomplished far more than that.
Based on his work ethic and improvement, he was elected captain for this year's team, he became a steady member of the top five and, for the first time, was the team's No. 1 runner at the Northeast Regional, finishing 10th overall in a personal-best 10K time of 30:55.7 to pace Stonehill to third and a ticket to this week's Division 2 nationals for the 10th straight year.
"It wasn't a complete shock but it was a weird feeling (being the team's top runner)," said Hanlon, who was named to the All-East Region team. "I was hoping it would happen eventually. When I finished I said, 'Well, this is my day!'
"I didn't feel I did as well as I could have last year. My goal was just to be an impact guy in the top 5 and I wasn't expecting to be No. 1. I just wanted to be a consistent runner."
And that's exactly what Hanlon has been according to coach Karen Boen.
"There is no question that Sean has been the most consistent runner this year," said Boen. "I can always count on him to run well.
"For Sean not to run cross country his freshman year and just continue to progress shows how much of a gamer he is. What he's done, to leap up from the 400 to 800 (meters) in high school and then do as well as he has in cross country is truly commendable."
Looking ahead to this weekend, Hanlon is hoping that Stonehill, which is ranked 15th nationally, can crack the top 15. Then he'll turn his attention to track, in which his perspective has changed because of cross country, and beyond.
"As I get older, I probably want to run more of the mile and try the 2-mile or 3K," said Hanlon, a marketing major who has been an All-American as the 800 leg on a standout distance medley relay team the last two years. "After I graduate, I'll probably run some road races with my friend Pat Fullerton (of Haverhill)."
And, at the same time, he'll probably continue to play the "what if" game.
Senior Ethan Penney has battled through injuries to be a factor during the Skyhawks championship season.
Penney dubbed Stonehill 'hero'
"Ethan is like the team hero," said Boen. "He's running, and running well, on guts now and I don't think a lot of guys would."
Penney, who is a tri-captain, started the season with a bang at the UMass Minuteman Invitational, coming in third overall with a personal-best 8K time of 24:26.42, pacing Stonehill to second in the meet and earning NE-10 Runner of the Week honors.
Unfortunately, Penney suffered a severe hamstring pull at that meet, sidelining him for three weeks of crucial training. He worked hard to come back for the NE-10 meet, finishing seventh, but he suffered a sprained ankle in the process.
"He could hardly run before the regional, so to do as well as he did is remarkable," said Boen. "Ethan had a great summer of running and, if he hadn't gotten hurt, he would have been our No. 1 guy all year.
"But to come back and contribute like he has is remarkable and just shows his character."
Locals at nationals
Stonehill College's Sean Hanlon and Ethan Penney will hardly be the only local runners competing at nationals this weekend.
In Division 1 at Louisville, former Masconomet standout Abbey D'Agostino of Dartmouth will be a contender for top honors after finishing second last year while North Andover's Kirsten Kasper will be competing for Georgetown and UNH's Keely Maguire of Georgetown will be running as an independent.
Groveland's Eric McDonald will be representing UMass Lowell in Division 2 at Missouri Southern State while Haverhill's Alicia Fannon will be running for Bates in Division 3, at Terre Haute, Ind., North Reading's Georgina Norton will represent NYU and North Reading's Mark Rolfs will be running for the University of Rochester. All the meets are slated for Saturday.
In Division 2, both the men's and women's teams will be in competition for Stonehill.