Emily Oliver, Samantha Kervin, Kiera Runske, Abbey Bernard and Ashvika Maddikonda prepare for a cross country meet at West Orange High School on Sept. 24.
Emily Oliver, Samantha Kervin, Kiera Runske, Abbey Bernard and Ashvika Maddikonda prepare for a cross country meet at West Orange High School on Sept. 24.
William Michael

Back on track

Lone senior returns to running after one-year hiatus

As Emily Oliver, the only senior on varsity cross-country, picks up her pace on Tropical Trail, she smiles at junior Kiera Runske beside her. Runske helped Oliver fall back in love with running after a one-year hiatus.

Oliver had run four years, seventh through 10th grade. Last year, the team had only three juniors, including her, who quit during preseason. Oliver said she was discouraged after not beating her personal record of 21.36 from eighth grade and running 350 miles one summer. 

“We all kind of fell out of love with the sport because we were intensively training since seventh grade,” Oliver said. “For us to be running for that many miles for years — it’s a lot on your body. It took a toll on all of us mentally.”

Runske is the sister of Oliver’s boyfriend, Rylan.

“Through that we became very close,” Runske said. “She is exactly like an older sister. It is a very funny dynamic that I wouldn’t want any other way.”

Runske and Oliver both encouraged each other to run. These days, Oliver averages 35 to 40 miles a week. They double, running twice a day, on Tuesdays for Long Dogger races. They like to run on Tropical Trail outside of cross-country.

“[Oliver] first started talking about having me come out with her to cross-country,” Runske said. “I went along with the idea because I wanted to get in better shape for lacrosse.”

Cross-country Coach Bryan Cheek is also supportive of Oliver. Oliver said Cheek is like a second dad since she has known him since fifth grade when Cheek’s son and Oliver’s older brother ran together on the West Shore team.

“I’ve enjoyed watching her grow into a mature and confident version of that same girl today,” Cheek said. “She’s always been a friendly and fun kid with just the right degree of sarcasm and sass. I see a new level of enjoyment and positivity from her as a senior this year, and I’m thrilled she made the decision to return to the team.”

Runske said returning to cross-country has shaped her into a leader to make a base for her after high school.

“[Oliver] makes up for the lack of seniors because she is basically the mom of the entire team,” Runske said.

Oliver misses three of the senior runners who graduated last year.

“I love my team, [but] it’s kind of sad at the same time,” Oliver said. “I used to run with Ashley Hilmes, Kayla Hannah, and Sophia Bailly, and they were all like my family. It doesn’t feel the same.”

Oliver wants to carry on traditions in cross-country from previous years.

“There is a Halloween surprise that I want to do,” Oliver said. “Every Wednesday we have a theme day and we dress up as a team. We vote for who dresses best.”

Cheek said Oliver’s engagement has been an important part of setting the standard for years to come for everything from spirit to race day.

“Our team is young and it’s been great to have Emily’s strong, positive influence present at practices and meets,” he said. “As a prior captain, she’s very supportive of team leadership making their job easier. With five seventh-grade girls on the team, her positive attitude and high level of engagement is [necessary.]”

Cheek said the number of new runners makes the season have equal amounts of challenge and reward. The team has 41 runners, 27 of whom are new to cross-country.

“My senior-heavy team last year was easy,” Cheek said. “They knew all the workouts, expectations, and how to bring it on race day. While I miss that quality of an older, experienced team, the young runners both in age and experience bring a new, lighthearted and entertaining feel this year.”

Oliver said she enjoys watching her younger teammates improve.

 “We have to parent the younger kids and teach,” she said. “They will be [great], but they have no miles on their legs. They have to get their miles up. ”

Oliver said she does not want to run competitively in the years ahead but will continue to run as an outlet for stress.

“Right now I enjoy running as a team, but in college, it will be different,” she said.

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