Greylock's Kaegi is All-Eagle girls cross country MVP
In the end, the individual honor for Emily Kaegi meant less than the team accomplishment.
She'd just won the Western Mass. Division II cross country championship, the only runner in her division to finish the Northfield Recreation Center course in less than 20 minutes.
She remembers her finish, all right, but not as well as she remembers Mount Greylock teammate Laura Galib's 26th-place finish.
"Seeing Laura Galib coming across the finish line, breathing so heavily, and saying to me, ‘Emily, I think we won,' " Kaegi said.
At that, Kaegi began to cry. Galib's thought and Kaegi's hope was soon confirmed by Greylock coach Larry Bell.
"The good news is you're going to states," Kaegi recalls Bell saying. "The better news is that we won!"
A fitting victory for a surprising Greylock season -- and a dominant season for Kaegi, the All-Eagle girls cross country MVP.
Bell was still handing out embroidered Western Mass. championship sweatshirts earlier this week. He was tired of just having t-shirts.
"Finally, for my own sake, I said, ‘We've got to get something,' " the coach said.
"In a championship scenario, having a front-runner gives you such an advantage. You've got to score four and they have to score five."
Kaegi was always that first scorer for the Mounties.
Even when teams like Lenox and Monument Mountain made great moves to outdo Greylock in the team standings, Kaegi was first to the finish. She took the Berkshire County championship race on her home course. She took Western Mass. at the notoriously hilly Northfield course. She was fifth at the state meet in Gardner.
And she didn't even know if she'd be able to accomplish any of that during the season, when an ankle injury forced her into a walking boot and away from regular practices.
To rehab the injury and return as soon as possible, Kaegi dealt with the boot and went through pool workouts.
"Wearing a boot during the day was a really hard part," she said. "Not only was I training in the pool, but I was away from the team."
Still, she fought through it -- and any pain she may or may not have experienced -- to pick up win after win.
The turning point, she said, was the Burnt Hills, N.Y., Invitational in October. There, she outran her previous personal-best time by 55 seconds.
Why? Bell wanted to break up the monotony of victory, so to speak.
"That's a meet we like to go to to run on a fast-quality course," the coach said. "I told her I was tired of her winning easy, and to lay it out there. With a half-mile to go, she broke free. She had the fourth- or fifth-fastest time of all divisions there that day.
"That was her breakout. I think, after that, it was just a question of not looking back over your shoulder."
And not letting an injury get in the way, of course.
"A part of me was worried I wouldn't even finish the [Western Mass.] race because it would hurt so much," Kaegi said. "At the same time, I wouldn't want to walk out."
She didn't, and she and the Mounties are better off for it.
Kaegi will run at Carleton (Minn.) College next year. It's a long way from Williamstown, but she won't be the only Massachusetts runner on the roster, and she's already comfortable around Knights cross country coach Donna Ricks.
"When I met the coach, she reminded me so much of Coach Bell and his training style," Kaegi said. "He really focuses on what runners individually need, and [Ricks] seems to have those philosophies."
The terrain might be a bit new. Minnesota, of course, is a much flatter state.
"Minnesota does have some hills ... but I'm used to running hills," Kaegi said. "Hopefully, I'll have a leg up on hill training."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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