For the second time in as many years, Elon University cross country sophomore Nick Ciolkowski went to the Colonial Athletic Association championships and emerged victorious, defending his CAA individual title in Newark, Delaware Saturday morning.
But Ciolkowski said he preferred this year’s method — a comfortable pace for five kilometers, a burst with around three kilometers to go, and then cruise control to a 13-second victory — over last season’s seven-tenths-of-a-second sprint to the tape.
“It felt great — it was a little less stressful than last year,” Ciolkowski said. “I felt better, and much more controlled. I had a little time to enjoy it this time running down the straightaway. It was great — I’m looking forward to keeping the ball rolling the next two weeks and the next three years.”
Ciolkowski finished with a time of 25:08.10 in the eight-kilometer race, running just a few seconds more than a five-minute-mile. He admitted that he wasn’t pushing as hard as he could, thinking his time could have been “in the 24:40s” on the White Clay Creek State Park course had he gone all out.
But in head coach Nick Polk’s mind, going all-out wouldn’t have been right. Not when Ciolkowski has more races to run.
“There was no point for him to push any harder than he did, and he was able to show that he could win and still leave some left in the tank,” Polk said. “That was the big thing, to win and come out healthy ahead of one of his biggest races of the year in under two weeks. I thought he ran a great strategy to minimize the effort he had to use to win. He came out of it feeling really good and ready to move on.”
Ciolkowski agreed, calling the successful execution of the strategy a “big confidence-booster.”
“Everything went perfectly,” Ciolkowski said. “There was no hiccup at all, there was no point where I felt, ‘Oh no, things might be going wrong.’ It was smooth sailing the entire way. It definitely put a lot more faith into my own work ethic and the coach’s training.”
Despite Ciolkowski’s individual performance, the Elon men finished third, with 84 points. The College of William & Mary won its 17th consecutive CAA men’s title with 26 points and Northeastern University finished with 46 for second place. It’s the third straight finish in third place for the Elon in its third year in the CAA.
For the women's team, Elon also finished in third place for the second year in a row, getting 66 points. William & Mary won its fifth straight CAA women’s crown with 34 points and James Madison University came in second with 47 points. Polk called the women’s race a “mixed bag” for Elon.
“We had a few run really well and we had a few with average to bad days,” Polk said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to put it all together like we could. Hats off to William & Mary and James Madison, they had really good days. We didn’t step up and rise to the occasion like we could have.”
Elon still had three all-CAA runners, as senior Kimberly Johansen took third place individually in the six-kilometer race with a time of 21:26.42. Sophomore Coralea Geraniotis finished in eighth in 22:04.19 and freshman Melissa Anastasakis ended in 12th at 22:18.35, earning Rookie of the Year honors.
“Each one of the [all-conference] women had great races, and probably the best one of the day was Melissa Anastatakis,” Polk said. “It was a big race, and probably the best race she’d ever run. She came through, and we just needed a couple of others to come through and they didn’t. I was pleased on their three individual performances.”
Elon will move on to compete at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship, which will be run Friday, Nov. 11 in Charlottesville, Va. Polk is hopeful that the CAA race has helped prepare Ciolkowski for a big race at the regional and that he keeps an eye toward the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. eight days later.
If Ciolkowski is able to do so, he can expect to get more people to send him messages like the one email he got after keeping his CAA title.
“I just got an email from an old chemistry professor congratulating me,” Ciolkowski, a biochemistry major, said. “It’s cool to see someone who’s not necessarily involved in the sport or Elon athletics keeping up on what you’re doing.”