After senior Andrea Keklak excelled in the 2013 Indoor Track and Field Championships last season, one would assume that she would continue on her path to track stardom. Instead, Keklak added an entirely different running style to her arsenal, emerging as a budding leader on the cross-country team.
In addition to her fourth place finish at the 800-meter indoor nationals last season, Keklak also earned recognition for her academic achievements. Her naming to the Academic All-American Second Team in 2013-2014 notched Georgetown Track and FIeld’s first national academic accolade since 2001.
Despite her success on the track circuit, Keklak decided to push herself further and explore cross-country as another way to utilize her passion and talent for running.
In each of the first two cross-country meets of the year, Keklak finished in second place. Her time of 18:19.30 at the Sept. 13 James Madison Invitational, the first meet of the year, marked the third-fastest time in course history. Her impressive race on the 2.7-mile course helped the Hoyas win the six-team tournament.
While running track might seem like a world away from the longer distances of cross-country, Keklak has actively trained and prepared for both events since March with Women’s Cross-Country Head Coach Michael Smith.
“Training [for track and cross-country] is cyclical, and so great track leads into great cross-country, great cross-country leads into great track,” Smith said. “I think that the two go hand-in-hand.”
Keklak embodies the excellence that comes with training for and running both track and cross-country. During her high school career in Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, Mass., Keklak was a star in both disciplines. She was an All-American runner, a Massachusetts State Champion for the 800m race and a two-time Massachusetts State Champion in cross-country and the 1000m race.
Keklak continued to race in all of these events when she attended Princeton University. Even when she was at the Ivy League school, Keklak had an eye on Georgetown’s athletic programs. When she had the chance to compete for the Hoyas, she decided to transfer away from Princeton.
“I always wanted to be at a college where athletics and academics were both priorities, and while both schools had incredible academic opportunities, I ultimately found that the track program at Georgetown was just a better fit for me,” Keklak said.
Despite her track and cross-country achievements in high school, and a promising start to her Ivy League career, upon her transfer to Georgetown for her sophomore year, Keklak did not officially join the cross-country on the Hilltop until she felt she could make a positive impact as a top-seven runner on the team.
“Here at Georgetown, we have this great cross-country team, so you could be a really good cross-country runner and not make our top-seven [runners],” Smith said. “[Andrea] was running cross-country, but she wasn’t ready to make an impact yet. Now, she’s ready to make an impact.”
This season marks the first time that Keklak has been able to run with the cross-country team at a more competitive varsity level.
“This is the first year where I’ve been able to score points for Georgetown, which is an amazing feeling,” Keklak said. “It’s definitely a big shift watching your team compete from the sidelines at [cross-country] meets, and then becoming one of those people who are actually in the race.”
The physical differences between running track and cross-country involve significant investments in strength and endurance training, as well as working on one’s aerobic system, according to Smith. However, these challenges did not deter Keklak, as she saw these obstacles as a way to cement her status as an elite competitor.
“Her attitude and her ability to embrace something that is new and different, I think is really crucial,” Smith said. “We’re only willing to try hard at things where we know success is assured, but if you’re willing to think outside of that box, then you can be really good.”
Keklak will continue to run for Georgetown’s indoor and outdoor track teams during the winter and spring seasons. The team aspect of cross-country, in contrast to track, contributed to Keklak’s decision to continue her cross-country career with the Hoyas.
“Cross-country season is special in a way because it’s the one time of year where everyone runs together in the same race, and all the goals are team-oriented,” Keklak said.
Furthermore, Keklak also enjoys the change of pace and scenery that cross-country provides.
“No matter where you go, a 400-meter track is always the same,” Keklak said. “But with cross-country, everywhere you go to race is going to be really different, which is exciting.”
Keklak and the rest of the No. 32-ranked Hoyas women’s cross-country team will look to build on their early-season success when they travel on Friday to the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., for the Paul Short Invitational.