On Cross Country
---- — There are still a few family members, and a teacher here and there, who call North Reading senior Nicole Roberts by her given name.
But she prefers “Nicky,” which is what all her friends call her.
And, based on her impressive career for the Hornets, she deserves to be called whatever she wants.
Roberts, who finished second in the Cape Ann League meet the weekend before last, has quietly become the top distance runners in school history and, somewhat unnoticed, one of the top small school girl runners in the state.
In addition to owning North Reading’s course record (16:49 for 2.75 miles) and placing first in nine of 10 dual meets this year, she finished third at the Division 3 meet as a junior and holds several school records in track.
Among the track records, she has run a 5:15 in the mile, a 2:20 for 800 meters and an 11:35 for the 2-mile, an event she’s only tried a handful of times.
“And I’m going to try the 1,000 (meters) this winter,” said Roberts. “I’m excited by that, to see how well I can do.”
There is no question that Roberts likes to compete, and to test herself, but that’s not why she switched from soccer after her freshman year and it hardly explains her love of cross country.
“I didn’t like the environment of soccer,” she said. “I wanted a change. I didn’t know if I’d be a good runner, but I heard it (cross country) was a great sport to get into.”
In fact, cross country was every bit as good as she had heard and maybe more so.
“I love the whole woodsy aspect of it, running outside on trails, and I like how everyone’s not watching you the whole race — you’re out there on your own,” she said.
“I also like the team. We’re a lot smaller than most teams, but that makes us closer.”
Roberts’ talent has been a boon for the Hornets, and so has her love of the sport. It was a big reason why her twin sister, Rachel, came out for cross country last year and progressed to become the team’s No. 2 runner, even if she’s considerably behind her sister.
“She switched (from soccer) because she saw how much I liked cross country,” said Roberts.
For two years, the twins have been running together throughout the high school season, but that will change next year as they’re not applying to the same schools.
“I’m definitely going to run cross country and track in college and I think she’ll do just track,” said Nicky.
For now, Roberts is focused on this week’s Division 5 Eastern Mass. meet, where she has a good chance of being in the top two. Then it will be onto the Division 2 All-State meet, in which she finished 14th last year.
“My goal is to make it in the top 10 this year,” she said.
Whatever the outcome, Hornets’ coach Derek Dorval knows that it’ll cap off a tremendous career.
“She’s worked hard and has been great for us,” said Dorval. “She deserves everything she’s done.”
Mulligan aims high
Talk about being lost in the shuffle.
Although it has definitely improved the last two seasons, Georgetown has struggled in cross country for years. Because of that, Royals’ senior Tom Mulligan has gotten little notice.
But Mulligan has been more than a solid runner and would be a welcome addition to any squad.
He’s been Georgetown’s No. 1 man for at least two years, owns the school record on the Royal’s home course and has been highly competitive overall, finishing 11th at last year’s Division 6 Eastern Mass. meet. He came in 80th in the Division 2 All-State meet.
“I definitely want to get back there (All-State) and do better,” said Mulligan.
While Mulligan, who began running cross country as an eighth grader, has enjoyed a fine career, one wonders if it could have been even better if he ran track in the winter and spring. But Georgetown doesn’t have a track team.
Moreover, in cross country, there is really no one to push Mulligan and he usually trains as part of the group, content to help encourage his less talented teammates.
“Sometimes I’ll just go out on my own and I try to push myself and see what I can do, but not that often,” he said.
But that could change for Mulligan, who was influenced running-wise by his uncle, former St. John’s Prep and University of Maryland runner Don Foley, because he’s giving serious thought to running in college.