Before high school, Michael Cunetta ’14 never thought he would be competing in collegiate cross country. Growing up in Seattle, Cunetta was an avid baseball player and member of his little league all-star team. But at the beginning of ninth grade, he realized he was too small to keep up with baseball. In an attempt to stay in shape for tryouts in the spring, he started running cross country, realized he loved it and quit the baseball team.

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Four years and hundreds of miles later, he was the second Bulldog to finish in the New England Championships last Saturday, running the nearly 5 mile course in 25:45, averaging a 5:14 mile.

“Every time I run, I’m performing better than I ever have in my life,” Cunetta said.

Cunetta was not a cross country recruit, only deciding to join the team during Bulldog Days after attending a men’s cross country practice. He found that not only was he able to keep up, but he also enjoyed running with the team.

“I realized this was something I had to do,” Cunetta said.

But college running is much different than in high school, and Cunetta knew he had to adopt a more intense training routine. Cunetta trained over the summer with Matt Thwaites ’13, whose internship was close to Cunetta’s house. The two ran four times a week, often for over 10 miles at a time. Thwaites estimated that Cunetta was running upwards of 70 miles a week by the end of the summer.

“Michael’s very sociable, very funny and a great guy to be around,” Thwaites said. “He made the miles pass pretty easily.”

Cunetta’s hard work over the summer paid off. Because college races are normally 3 kilometers longer than those in high school, the transition for freshmen is usually a tough one, teammate Jeff Perrella ’11 said. Chris Scavone ’11 said Cunetta stood out in practices because of his strong work ethic and can do attitude. In his first collegiate race at the Quinnipiac Invitational, Cunetta churned out a last minute push to work his way from eighth place, ultimately finishing second.

“It’s incredible,” Thwaites said. “He surprised everyone; he surprised himself and really surprised our coach.”

But it’s not only the intense workouts and stiff competition that Cunetta has adjusted well to — he has also really meshed with the team. From the quiet freshman who began the year, hoping to prove himself, teammates said he has become more outgoing, displaying his determination and sharp sense of humor.

“He’s a really, really funny guy,” Chris Scavone ’11 said. “As cross country is a bit of a draining spot, you need someone there who’s ready to lighten the atmosphere.”