NCAA, Other, Sports

The paths less traveled

It’s not often that one email can change the course of a person’s life. One up-and-down look at the inbox, and most of them end up in the trash.

But for junior Katie Matthews and freshman Rich Peters, the only two Boston University All-Americans for the 2010-11 indoor track and field season, a series of emails set them on paths that would intersect on Commonwealth Avenue.

Like most collegiate athletes, those initial e-mails were a part of the recruiting process. For Matthews, the story is a relatively simple one.

The Rocky Hill, Conn. native buckled down on her running in her junior year of high school thanks to a new coach at Rocky Hill High School, and once her college search started, she sent BU coach Bruce Lehane that all-important first email.

“I had emailed Bruce saying I was interested – simultaneously I was talking to other coaches, too – but when I visited BU I loved the school.

“It was definitely a package deal,” Matthews said of BU’s combination of strong academics and competitive athletics, “which isn’t as common as you might think.”

On Peters’ side, the story is a bit more complicated, and for good reason: instead of moving just one state over, as Matthews did, Peters had to cross an entire ocean. Hailing from Bristol, England, Matthews had been in contact with Lehane for about a year and a half before coming to BU, and that process was anything but a smooth one.

“I knew someone that had come [to BU] previously, so he emailed me asking whether I was interested,” Peters said. “At the time I was not 100 percent sure, so I didn’t commit anything, I didn’t say yes.”

After some more persuading – and some more emails – it appeared that Lehane had successfully convinced Peters to make the jump and enroll at BU for the spring 2010 semester.

But before Peters could cross the pond separating the continent he called home and the continent where he could further his running career, he got cold feet.

“We had been talking for quite a while, and he indicated that that would be a good time for him to start,” Lehane said. “But when the time came near in 2010, he changed his mind. He felt like it wasn’t a good move for him. Then we figured, ‘Oh, OK, that fish got away, you know? It got off the hook’.’”

A few months passed, and BU wrapped up its 2009-10 indoor season with a fifth-place finish at the America East championships and started the outdoor season, moving on from its apparently failed English recruiting venture.

That is, until Lehane received  another email in Spring 2010.

“[Peters] contacted me again, saying that he came to the conclusion of a change of heart and he felt like he passed up an opportunity that he should have taken,” Lehane said.

And so the process began again, this time with the fish on the hook for good, as Peters applied for and received his visa, NCAA eligibility and admission to BU.

Flash forward almost an entire year to March 11, 2011 at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas, the location of the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Not only has Peters overcome any fears he had in leaving his life in England behind, but he has excelled in his first collegiate track season, even breaking the school record in the mile – an event he didn’t run often in England – at BU’s Valentine Invitational with a time of 3:58.26.

He and Matthews, who qualified in for the 5,000-m race with a time of 16:06.38 at the AE championships, are the only Terriers left to represent BU on the national stage.

Matthews’ 5,000-m race did not have a qualifying round at the meet, so she and her competition jumped right into the finals. She finished in 16:13.21 – a bit slower than her AE championship time, as expected, because athletes run for placement and not time at this meet – which was good for sixth place and first team All-America honors.

“At first it was going out really slow, especially for the level that these runners are at, so I was just like ‘Stay with them, stay with them,’ and waited for whoever made the move to stay on the move,” Matthews said.

Matthews said that at first, she didn’t consider herself to be among the premier female collegiate runners in the country. The fact that understanding this took a mental adjustment is a testament to how quickly her recent growth and great strides have come in her time at BU.

“It was definitely an adjustment,” Matthews said of considering herself among the best. “At first I was always thinking of them as being, I don’t know, more elite than me or something, but now that I’ve run with them not only at that meet but at a couple other races, I am including myself in that group now.”

This improvement certainly has not escaped Lehane, who coached Matthews through a 2010 cross country season where she was consistently BU’s top female runner.

“She’s improved tremendously this year,” Lehane said. “She went from kind of being one of the better local runners to one of the better national runners, one of the best runners in the country.”

When Matthews’ trip to NCAAs was all said and done, she came away with first team All-America honors, quite the accomplishment for the first time visitor to the national championship stage. Even more impressive is that she surpassed her own expectations – all of them.

“Everyone’s goal is to make it to nationals and be All-America. Obviously it’s something people strive for…but I never thought I would be able to make it,” she said with a laugh and some hesitation. “I surprised myself.”
Peters’ experience at nationals was a different one – a more frustrating and disappointing one.

The freshman finished 11th in the preliminary round of the one-mile race, just .03 seconds from a spot in the finals with a time of 4:01.42. He finished just .55 seconds behind the first finisher, sophomore Chris O’Hare from the University of Tulsa, but was left watching the finals, which Peters said would have suited him perfectly.

He finished fast enough for second team All-America recognition, but felt letdown by his own performance, especially considering the winning time in the finals – 3:59.49 by Brigham Young University junior Miles Batty – was 1.23 seconds slower than Peters’ personal best.

“I was disappointed, if I’m honest,” Peters said. “I was disappointed because I didn’t position myself well during the race. I can’t blame anyone else but myself for that. I was frustrated for two, three days after, especially watching it back a few times.

“I’m cringing at myself. I made good moves and I made bad moves, but the bad moves outweighed the good ones I guess…I knew what I should be doing. I knew the mistakes I made, and I guess that’s the most frustrating thing, when you know what you should have done.”

Moving on from successes and relative “disappointments,” both Matthews and Peters have their eyes on bigger and better things, including making more trips to national championships and breaking school records, neither of which seems out of reach. Peters is aiming for the outdoor 1,500 meter record and improving his indoor mile mark – “I’ve got to beat it every year, I guess,” he said matter-of-factly – while Matthews is looking for the indoor 5,000 meter and the outdoor 10,000 meter records.

Lehane said that while both athletes have good chances of reaching these goals by the time their tenures as Terriers come to a close, it will certainly be no easy task, especially for Peters.

“Sure, I have doubt. But I wouldn’t put it past him. If you asked me a year ago if Katie could do the things she’s done, I would have said no,” Lehane said plainly. “Athletes surprise. You can put someone in a box, but they can put themselves out of that box and go into another box.

“Whether he will get to the next level, we don’t know. We see that he’s knocked about five seconds off his mile, and if you find five more seconds, that’s pretty exciting. It’s hard to find those five seconds. But then again, some people do it. Is he one of those people?” Lehane said.

“You’ll have to stay tuned.”

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