Bridgewater cross country coach Brian Flynn was certain Kaylee Kubisiak was going to be one of his top runners this fall.
“I knew she would be in our top two,” Flynn said. “She’s a very talented runner.”
Kubisiak wasn’t quite so sure.
“I really wasn’t sure how well I would do my first year,” Kubisiak said. “I was hoping to be in our top five. I honestly didn’t expect to do this well. I didn’t have the confidence early in the season that I should have had. The training I put in was the difference. It was an amazing year.”
Kubisiak’s confidence level skyrocketed after her performance at the Eagles biggest meet of the year, the Roy Griak Invitational hosted by the University of Minnesota. The BC first-year runner finished 10th overall and placed ahead of her teammate Olivia Mills who was recognized by most as the best runner in the ODAC.
“I knew Ollie (Mills’ nickname on the team) was still coming back from an injury, but she’s such a great runner and to finish ahead of her in a big meet made me realize that I could do this. It was great to have someone like Ollie to run with. I had never had that before. I think we pushed each other throughout the year.”
For the rest of the season, Mills and Kubisiak were fixtures at the front of the pack. They finished 1-2 at the ODAC Championship Meet with Mills earning Runner of the Year honors while Kubisiak took home the Rookie of the Year trophy.
Nothing changed at the NCAA South/Southeast Region meet as Mills placed fourth with Kubisiak right behind in fifth. The finishes qualified both runners for the NCAA Division III National Cross Country meet in Terre Haute, Ind.
The plan called for the same strategy at the national meet, but the plan just didn’t come to fruition. Mills finished 26th overall and earned All-American honors for the first time in her third and final trip to the NCAA meet. Kubisiak got caught in the pack and finished 123rd, still in the top half of the field.
The result wasn’t what she was looking for, but the experience proved invaluable.
“Nationals was the first time all year where Kaylee wasn’t running out front. Even at the Griak meet she ran in the Top 10 most of the race,” Flynn said. “The number of runners in the national meet, the crowd, the excitement, the importance of the race, the injury – all those were factors. When it’s your first time in that environment, it’s difficult to concentrate on strategy.”
“Coach told me to go out with Ollie and stay with her,” Kubisiak said. “I did that for maybe the first mile, but then I got in a rhythm with a group of other runners. People started passing us and I wasn’t sure what my strategy should be at that point. I should have been able to run better, but my legs were done. My body was worn out.”
Kubisiak estimates she logged 1,000 miles in six months. Entering the national meet, she was dealing with a stress reaction in one of her legs. The workload and the injury were too much to overcome.
“It’s a tough transition to the extra mileage in your first year of college running,” Flynn explained. “Kaylee was probably running 25-30 miles per week in high school and we had her running upwards of 50. If she was in Division I, she would have redshirted the first year, no doubt. A lot of first-year college runners are redshirted so their bodies can adapt to that kind of mileage. We don’t have that luxury in Division III.”
Despite the stress reaction suffered this season, Kubisiak believes she will be able to handle the necessary workload in the future. “My muscles and bones are getting stronger. I have to eat the right things and learn to keep my focus in training. I have never been in this intense type of training before. It’s a big change but I’m getting used to it.”
Kubisiak’s first-year performance at the national meet was similar to Mills’ finish in 2010. Mills finished 96th overall in her first appearance at the NCAA meet and improved to 41st in her second attempt. This year, she took another step forward to earn All-America honors.
“Olivia had a great race her sophomore year at nationals and each year she continued to get better,” Flynn said. “With the right progression and if she stays healthy Kaylee is certainly capable of being an All-American.”
Kubisiak is now working to rehab her legs in preparation for track season. She is anxious to start training again and her mind is already thinking about the next cross country season.
“Right now, the pool is my best friend. I’ve been in the pool every day,” she said. “Hopefully, I can get back to running soon. Coach Flynn said that I may get to go for a run as my Christmas present.
“I like cross country much more than track,” she continued. “Cross country is my passion. It’s the reason I’m here. It was an amazing experience to qualify for nationals my first year and it was awesome to see Ollie become an All-American. Next year, I want to be ready and go get that for myself.”