BOGACZYK: Herd’s Porter, Cook Running Past Their History
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 24, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As Marshall’s cross country team heads toward the Conference USA Championships, the Herd is receiving big performances from women runners who started from Mountain State small-town experiences.
Andrea Porter, a junior from Point Pleasant, has developed into the team’s top runner over the last two seasons. But the last time out – on Oct. 17 at the Cross Country Only National Invitational – Porter was 10 seconds behind a younger teammate.
Adriana Cook, a freshman from Crab Orchard (population 2,678) in Raleigh County, won the event with a clocking of 18:19.2 in the 5K at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Va. Porter finished third and the Herd won the title in the six-team event, placing five runners in the individual top 10.
Cook became the first Herd women’s runner to win a cross country event since September 2002, when junior Shelby Pride won in a dual meet against Ohio University in Ona. Cook’s triumph was the first by a Herd freshman woman since Maureen Hackett won the VMI Invitational in 1995.
Veteran Marshall Coach Jeff Small and his cross country assistant, former Herd runner Caleb Bowen, say what’s special about Porter and Cook is their development after having a lack of cross country experience in high school.
“Overall, these two ladies are poised to do really well at the Conference USA Championships (Saturday in Bowling Green, Ky.) and the (NCAA) Mid-Atlantic Regional,” Bowen said. “I hope they can continue to push each other to become the best we've ever seen here at Marshall.
“They are awesome runners but more importantly awesome people. They make coaching fun, and Coach Small and I are blessed to have them on our team.”
Porter, 20, was a basketball star at Point Pleasant High, finishing her career with 1,101 points and was a two-time All-State honorable mention choice. Porter had Division I and II offers for hoops, but chose Marshall, where much of her family’s education is rooted. She had played basketball since the fifth grade and didn’t begin running for PPHS until her sophomore year.
“Cross country in college was so different from running in high school for me,” said Porter, a nursing major at MU. “In high school I was probably running 25-30 miles per week, so that transition was difficult for me the first year.
“I ended up being injured and being out for a week with some minor (tendon) problems. But I think where I hadn’t done a lot as a high school runner, that allowed me to get a lot better, a lot stronger, a lot quicker than some of the other girls who had been training heavily throughout their high school years.”
Cook – mirroring Porter’s running experience – didn’t get into track and field until her 10th grade year at Independence High School. As a senior, she won the Class AA 3,200 meters at the State Track Meet at Laidley Field, and finished second in the 1,600 and she had interest from UNC Asheville as well as the Herd.
As for her cross country experience?
“Next to none,” said Cook, 18 and a first-semester psychology major. “Like Andrea, I didn’t start track until my sophomore year, but it wasn’t until halfway through cross country season in my senior year when I picked that up.
“I am very, very, very new to cross country. I had only run three or four cross country races before I even came to college. So, my very first collegiate race was only my fifth race of my cross country career. I just did a lot of training on my own, relying on myself because the cross country team I was on, we only had one other girl, so they do what they could with us.
“We had amazing coaches, but they didn’t have a lot to work with, and it’s hard. I’d go to practice, but also at same time I had a personal trainer (Megan Clackler of the Beckley YMCA) working with me. I’d go run a lot on my own, extra mileage. There was a lot of dedication and pushing myself and teaching myself the best I could.”
Small already had Porter in the program he has run for two decades, and he knew about Cook prior to her limited cross country senior season.
“Andrea was an easy sell for Marshall,” Small said. “We have had many track/cross country athletes from Point Pleasant who have done well. Her parents are Marshall graduates; her middle sister is now a freshman at Marshall.
“Andrea is the only recruit that I have had who teared up in front of me when I told her that I could offer her some athletic scholarship money. I knew then that running at Marshall was very important to her and that she would work very hard to be successful.
“As for Adriana, she was recruited based on how fast she had run the 800 meters during her junior year of high school. She had very little experience running longer distances than that. When she moved up in distance her senior year and won the state in the 3,200 -- and knowing her limited training background -- I knew she had the potential to be something special here.”
Cook and Porter say they have prospered within the team concept, although their sport is rooted in the “loneliness of the long distance runner” adage.
“I definitely feel while we’re incorporated in a team and we run as a team, fortunately – and unfortunately – it’s up to you to put in the time and the effort because it does take a lot of dedication to excel in this type of a program,” Porter said. “In this past meet, this team had an average time of 18:55, which hasn’t been achieved since the 2012 conference championships.
“I think this group has a lot of cohesion and we really push one another and get along great, and the atmosphere itself gives us a leg up. I’m really proud of the way this team has progressed especially we’re so young. We only have three seniors and only one of those has been here all four years. So, to be able to say we’re doing as well this early in the season (cross country, followed by indoor and outdoor track) is special.”
Cook, with even less pre-collegiate experience than Porter, said her arrival with the Herd was something new.
“I learned that having a team behind you can really help a lot, it can work wonders,” Cook said. “I excelled greatly and wonderfully only with my coach and myself. But once I was introduced to a team and a family atmosphere it made a real difference.
“It’s an individual and team effort, but with a team backing you up, it can heavily hit you mentally. And with the other girls, it’s like we want each other to be better than each other. I want the next girl to beat me as much as the next girl wants to beat me. That’s what we need though. Family competition … it’s amazing how you push one another.”
Cook’s victory in the Richmond-hosted event – the first individual win by a Herd runner in a multi-team event in Small’s 20 seasons coaching the women’s cross country program – isn’t the only thing that has been an eye-opener for the rookie collegian.
“Oh my goodness, yes, I’ve been surprised,” Cook said. “I can tell collegiate training is way more intense – in a good way – than I’ve ever had. For example, the best that I ran in cross country in high school was a 21:21 and I was to the point of exhaustion at the end of the race. (At Mechanicsville), I ran an 18:19.
“And I was exhausted, yes, because I gave it my all, but I was still able to recover way better than I did in high school. So, just already progressing that much physically and just being in shape, the difference is amazing. What has surprised me is how far I’ve come and how quickly the training has transformed my body athletically.”
Bowen said Porter and Cook have the kind of talent – and more – to lift Small’s program in C-USA. “I believe Andrea is one of the most dedicated and hardest working girls on the team. However, what truly makes her stand out is how competitive she is,” the Herd assistant coach said. “I've never seen someone who wants to win as badly as she does.
“It's awesome to see the fire in her eyes as she is gunning down someone on the homestretch. I think she has the potential to be one of the best runners we've ever had on the women's side. And the crazy thing about it is she came out of high school with a personal record of 20:08 in the 5,000. Now, she has run 18:29 and I believe a sub-18 is coming here in the next few weeks.
“With Adriana, prior to this season, I thought she would be a girl who would develop over the years and become a good runner by her senior year. I knew she was good because she won the state championship in the 3,200 for AA but I never expected her to do what she has done so far this season. I mean, she has just won her first collegiate cross country meet and she has only run three meets.
“That is insane! She is an amazing talent and I think she has just scratched the surface on her potential. In addition to her talent, she is just a tank when it comes to training. She didn't even blink an eye when I told her that she how many miles she was going to run.
“The more miles she runs, the better she gets. She's just an awesome kid to coach. Coach Small and I have big expectations for Adriana at the conference and regionals and knowing her, I believe she will surpass our expectations.”