Carolina Kirby looks to continue inclusive bond with underclassmen

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — University junior distance runner Caroline Kirby still remembers her first summer of high school cross country.

She came from a background of success in the sport, capturing the 2016 Monongalia County middle school championship, but soon realized that even with her skill, she was entering a new world.

“It definitely was an adjustment,” she said. “But the seniors and juniors I had supporting me and encouraging me was a big help.”

Her story is a similar one for many girls who have spent time inside the program at University — one of an inclusive and welcoming group of upperclassmen eager to begin working with and developing young teammates while building a familial atmosphere.

It’s a system that Hawks’ coach Ed Frohnapfel has spent years emphasizing during the summer three-week practices, which he credits to helping him consistently build teams that can compete on the statewide level. His girls have been the most successful squad in the state this past decade — capturing six Class AAA team championships in the last nine years and finishing as runner-up two more times.

“Basically, I try to get the freshmen started off on the right foot. I have a few this year that seem like they’re going through culture shock. They realize it’s not middle school anymore. I try to get people up to speed and give them a little forewarning for what to expect come August,” he said.

Kirby is proof that the system works.

Instead of spending her summer struggling to manage the adjustment to high school training, she got to work with top ten finishers in seniors TaShala Turner and Peyton Kukura. When the final weekend in October rolled around, she was able to take 10th place at the state meet last year — the top freshman finisher.

“During the summer is definitely a crucial part of the season. You want to influence the freshmen to get out and run and join us,” Kirby said. “You want to come in and support each other. Having the upperclassmen picking me up to take me places and inviting me to run with them was a huge part of my success. It really helped me during the school year.”

As the cycle continues, more freshmen continue to step into the program, and as a junior, Kirby now has a chance to be a leader for the next group of Hawks.

Many of the newcomers are already finding themselves comfortable within the group.

“Coming up as a freshman, it’s a much more competitive atmosphere, but I feel like the girls are really good and they try to include everyone and push everyone to be better,” Samantha Guenther said.

“I have really liked it so far. It’s kind of like a family. I see the girls making plans to run together and everything, and it feels very nice.”

The practices also help develop a foundation to build upon and spark momentum to finish the summer strong before the start of the season.

“Starting to train early gives you a nice base for August and gets you prepared for workouts and races coming ahead,” Kirby said. “Building mileage and increasing the long runs is extremely important heading into the fall. It definitely starts in the summer and you hope it carries all the way through to end of the season.”

“I feel like the different practices, and workouts we do, not only helps me during these three weeks but will help me figure out what to do in July as I head towards the season,” Guenther added.