Aug. 29, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Alexandria Phares – you can call her Alex – opens her third cross country season at Marshall next week. She does so with a singular achievement already for the Herd.
Last month, Phares was chosen as one of 18 winners of the 2013-14 Conference USA Scholar-Athlete Award. The awards are presented to the top student-athletes in each conference sport and are determined by the league’s Faculty Athletics Representatives. The award is based on academic achievement (GPA), athletic achievement and service.
Phares’ honor was for women’s track and field. And in Marshall’s first nine years in the conference, her award was the first of its kind for the Herd.
“It’s so exciting,” Phares said earlier this week when asked about the C-USA award. “It’s thrilling. I can’t believe I got it. Really, I know that there are a lot of talented athletes and scholars out there in the conference. I’m just really humble that they chose me. I’m really grateful.”
Phares, a junior from Morgantown, has a 4.0 GPA while majoring in geography. And on the nomination form for the C-USA Scholar-Athlete honor, she has nearly 260 hours of community service in the 2013-14 school year.
That was before spending 10 days in Africa just after the outdoor track and field season ended in late May. Through her community service work via First Baptist Church of Kenova, Phares went to work with Macey Klaiber, a young church member who runs an orphanage-connected school for special needs children in Africa.
“I went for 10 days to Kampala and Jinja in Uganda,” said Phares, who is expected to be one of the mainstays on a Herd cross country team that opens its season Thursday at the Tommy Evans Invitational in Akron, Ohio. “I went as a missionary (with Klaiber’s family) and got to spend a lot of time with different ministries and orphanages in Kampala.
“It was interesting to see what the church is doing in Uganda. I poured into a lot of kids and they poured back into me, so it was really a great 10 days. I really got a feel for the people there and the culture there and realized that’s a place I’d like to be there longer-term one day.”
Phares, 20, said it was her first time overseas and she worked with mostly young children.
“I think that God has just given me a lot of opportunity to serve others,” Phares said. “It’s not charity; it’s just getting to love people who maybe the world forgets to love sometimes.”
Phares came to MU from University High in Morgantown, where she was coached by Ed Frohnapfel. His program has sent numerous runners to Coach Jeff Small’s Herd, including Frohnapfel’s sons, Adam and Eric (not the Marshall football tight end), and Matt Schiffbauer, the last Marshall individual to run in the NCAA nationals.
“Alex has been one of our top cross country runners on the women's team since she arrived in Huntington,” said Small, who has 16 runners on the 2014 women’s team and 10 on the MU men’s team. “She really cares about the sport and is a very hard worker who wants to get better.
“She is a good leader who leads more by her actions than by her words. She is a wonderful student-athlete who is a great ambassador for Marshall University.”
In track, Phares runs the 1,500 and 5,000 meters for the Herd. Her best time in the 5,000 (also the cross country distance for women in most regular-season events) is 19 minutes, 9 seconds.
“I’m really excited for our cross country team this season,” Phares said. “We have a lot of talented freshmen and a lot of talented returnees. We’re a really cohesive team this year; we work together really well. We just get along, so I’m excited just for the relationships that are going to form over the season, and I think that will show in our workouts and hopefully in our races.
“For me, I’d really love to break 19 (minutes, as a goal) but I’m also trying to be realistic just with training, so consistently being in the 19s will be great. But we’ll see. I want to work hard this season and what happens in the races happens.”
Phares started running in the fifth grade, but didn’t really buy into it, she said, until the summer prior to her junior year at UHS. “I was back-of-the-pack on the JV until then,” she said. “Then I got serious and my coach (Frohnapfel) really helped me … I started training and before I knew it, things started improving and I was on my way to Marshall.”
Phares, a Marshall Dean’s List member each of the last three semesters, also has won both the C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medal and made the Commissioner’s Honor Roll in both of her years at MU.
With her academic and community service commitments – she estimated she averages more than four hours per week in a year on the latter – Phares also must combine the rigors of competing in cross country and indoor and outdoor track.
“All three (academics, athletics, community service) are all so important for me because I think I can glorify the Lord in all three of those areas,” Phares said. “But then, I love my community work because of the relationships I get to form. I form relationships in all of those aspects, so they’re all important.”
She hopes to use her degree in geography in a worldly way, too.
“I’d love to work for a humanitarian aid group or be a field worker for a relief program,” Phares said. “So, I really want to be overseas doing something in the those fields … Other than working with the children, what was special in Africa was being in a completely different culture in a completely different world, but at the same time, feeling completely content and at home. The people there, the church there, it was so cool.”
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Small’s cross country team has four regular-season meets before the Nov. 1 C-USA Championships in Denton, Texas. The realigned C-USA has 13 women’s teams and 11 men’s teams in the sport for 2014.
The Herd’s best C-USA finishes were fourth by the men in four straight years (2007-10) and an eighth place for the women in 2012.
Small approaches the season with optimism.
“Four of our top seven girls from last year's team have graduated so we will be very young on the women's side this year,” he said. “We did have an excellent recruiting class this year, so I think our team will be much more talented than last year’s team.
“Celia Leonard was subpar last season due to illness, but she is feeling better, coupled with the improvement of sophomore Andrea Porter. That should allow our team to move up in the conference standings.”
The Herd men could be stronger as well.
“We have our top seven guys returning on the men's side, led by seniors Jack Whitney and Caleb Bowen. Will Shaffer and Jordan Brown-Stobbe are coming off excellent spring seasons but our No. 3 man and top freshman from last year, Tony Hayes, has been in a boot for the whole summer.
“When and if he returns to the lineup will have a large determination on how our men's team finishes this year.”