Some of Niklas Andersen’s toughest lessons at Drew came outside the classroom. The lone member of the Rangers’ cross country team last fall, Andersen learned to train and compete solo.
There were three guys on the team during preseason, according to Andersen, but one “survived one practice” and another “came to a couple of meets before he decided to quit.” That left Andersen alone, and though he continued to race he was not able to score points – and needed a waiver to participate in the Landmark Conference Championships.
Andersen, his female teammates, and head coach Colleen O’Brien spent much of the year trying to persuade other Drew students to try cross country.
“It didn’t dissuade me from trying my hardest. It’s always about doing your best,” said Andersen, a Mendham resident who graduated from Drew in May with a double major in political science and economics.
“There’s a certain perseverance to it. It might be tough at the beginning, but you’ll notice, as you keep running, you’re going to get stronger, and your times are going to keep improving.”
Though Andersen had competed in cross country since he was 13 – including four years at Gill-St. Bernard’s – even he wasn’t sure whether he’d continue when he got to Drew as a freshman. His parents convinced him not to “become lazy, a couch potato,” a recruiting tactic he used when he saw other people running on campus. Cross country also helped Andersen, who commuted from Mendham, with time-management.
As a NCAA Division III university, Drew does not offer athletic scholarships, making it more difficult to target potential applicants.
O’Brien e-mailed her fellow Rangers coaches, some of whom shared her request for runners with their athletes. The cross country team also posted flyers on campus and sent a lot of e-mail, stressing the fact that no experience was necessary – and the importance of cross-training.
O’Brien has one incoming freshman recruit, plus rising junior Patrick Boyle from South Plainfield, a lefty starter on Drew’s baseball team. She is also in touch with three other guys who might turn up for preseason workouts in August, and a “core group” of seven returning women.
Said O’Brien, a Hanover Park alumna, “They have the opportunity to build a legacy at Drew, and really start fresh.”
Though Boyle was a three-sport athlete (soccer, swimming, baseball) at South Plainfield, he hasn’t been part of a cross country or track team – or run longer than a 5K in competition. O’Brien sent summer workouts, and Boyle has gotten advice from high school classmate Jesse Deffler, a pole vaulter at Muhlenberg.
O’Brien had a 2-5 record and 4.32 ERA for the Rangers in the spring.
“This should be a nice challenge,” said Boyle, a double major in business and economics who hopes to go into sports broadcasting.
“I have to get my running in, and I like to lift all year round. I think this will definitely help me stay in shape for baseball, and maybe open some new doors. … I’m playing to be the best, to be faster than the person on the left and right of me. I’d like to keep improving through the season.”
O’Brien estimated her “DrewPack” of female runners, led by rising junior Dina Abdeljabbar, could be as large as 18 in the fall. As freshmen, the Abdeljabbar twins – Dina and Donia, both Whippany Park alumnae – were part of a big incoming class which revitalized the Rangers’ women’s cross country team.
“You don’t need any experience to be a runner,” Dina Abdeljabbar said. “You have to have the motivation to get out there. As long as you have a good mindset, you’re kind of good to go.”