Returning from his third trip to the NCAA National Championship in as many years, men’s cross country captain Kevin Dooney ’16 stands out as a top athlete at Yale. He earned a 61st-place finish at Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, over Thanksgiving break and 34th in 2014, in addition to being awarded All-American honors last year and earning three career All-Ivy and All-Region namings. After another successful cross country season that included a second-place individual finish at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, he and many members of his team will make the transition to track, where they are hoping to bring some success from the fall with them. The News sat down with Dooney to discuss his cross country career and goals for the track season.
Q: How did the Louisville course differ from the other Nationals races you participated in?
A: The last two years it’s been in Terre Haute, Indiana. Luckily, we’d been to [Louisville] for Pre-Nationals. Personally I preferred the Terre Haute course. I’m experienced enough with the race and I unfortunately am used to being there alone. It was nice knowing I had experience to rely on when the course is a little unfamiliar. Indiana is purposefully built as a cross country course. Louisville is park land — there are many more twists and turns.
Q: What were your thoughts on your performance at this year’s Nationals?
A: Well, you never like to go backward. My summer training wasn’t as good as last year, and it’s such a competitive race. I was 11 seconds off being an All-American again. [The performance was due to] a combo of rough travel and the way the race went out, incredibly hard. I paid the price. I did everything I could to hold on to the position I was in.
Q: What made the journey to Louisville “rough”?
A: For Nationals, you leave a little bit earlier [than for other events]. We flew out of Hartford on Wednesday [before a Saturday race]. We were supposed to connect in Atlanta, but there was a storm over Atlanta. We landed two hours late and missed our connection in Atlanta. Some sort of calamity of refueling and pilots not being there delayed the 12 a.m. flight to 6:45 a.m. My coach tucked me in on an empty bench in the Atlanta airport. We eventually got to Louisville at 9 a.m. Thursday, which added 12 hours of travel and a lost night of sleep.
Q: Is difficult to be an individual qualifier rather than a member of a qualifying team?
A: The NCAA puts on a good show. There was a banquet at Churchill Downs this year. It was a fun opportunity, but it’s definitely hard when you see all the other teams there. Thankfully I had two coaches with me. There was an Ivy League table and stretching tent. On the men’s side, there were one Columbia and two Cornell individual qualifiers. It was nice to hang out together and not be completely on your own leading up to a race. You get used to doing everything as part of your team. It’s different, but I raced throughout high school as an individual most of the time so it’s not too much of a shock to me.
Q: What stands out about Nationals compared to the other meets of the season?
A: In terms of numbers, it’s a much bigger field. Beforehand there’s an increased level of atmosphere. There’s live music going on and lots of energy around the start line. You know there’s so many good runners. You can’t take your foot off the gas. If you lose focus for a second then three people pass you. The number of people you have around you at all the time and the energy level stand out.
Q: After four years as a Yale cross country runner, how have you seen the program change over the course of your career?
A: The team has come an incredibly long way. To see the improvement in the last four years has been an awesome thing to watch and be a part of. This year at Regionals was the first time we’ve seen our team put ourselves out there. We were right in the midst from the get-go. Ultimately it didn’t work out, but we put ourselves in the position that we need to be in. We can achieve what we’ve been trying to. I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself and the sport in the past four years, from having the team around me and all the different senior leadership.
Q: In your opinion, what was the most memorable race of this season?
A: Heps [in which Yale placed third out of eight Ivy League teams] was a standout. No one believed we would amount to anything. To run so well on a day that really mattered and to cross the line second [individually] at Heps … that’s a day that will always stick with me. I had a great group of guys behind me and we were able to pull it all off. It was an incredible thing to be a part of.
Q: What legacy do you think you’re leaving behind?
A: Hopefully, a good one. I think we have definitely changed the mentality [because of] myself and the five other seniors I’m lucky enough to have with me. We changed from a team just showing up with high aspirations to being a team that people will stop and notice. We have the confidence to compete with these teams. By competing at the national level for three years, I hope I showed people that we can do it and we can make it with the best in the country. It’s a matter of having belief in oneself.
Q: Looking forward to the winter, what changes happen as the team shifts from cross country to track and field?
A: The focus shifts a little bit because in cross country we all go out and race an 8K or 10K, but [in track] our team becomes more splintered, ranging from 800m to 10K races. Most of the team prefers track season. We definitely have high hopes and aspirations for this season. In terms of mentality, we’re not going to change much. Racing is still racing. We’re going to go out there and do what we’ve done all year and hopefully the results will stay [in the track season as well].
Q: What goals does the team have for the track season?
A: As a team, for one we obviously do not want to finish last place in the Ivy League. For whatever reason, we’ve had trouble. We definitely have the ability to move ourselves up in the rankings in the Ivy League a lot, with not being last again definitely the top goal. I don’t want to leave Yale being eighth in indoor and outdoor Heps.