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 True cross country fans know our sport is more of a team event than most outsiders realize, yet there are plenty of individual standouts as well.  So, while honoring the tradition we have started at DyeStat with Interval Sessions, which introduced you to the top individuals in both track and XC, we launch Fall 2009 with "Star Squad Spotlight," giving you a chance to get to know not just the top individual runners in the country, but also the best teams.

 squad | bishop hendricken ri boys
by SteveU, DyeStat Senior Editor

Everything has pointed toward this being a big year for Bishop Hendricken RI cross-country.  It started with a group of juniors and underclassmen that knew at the end of the 2008 campaign that big things were ahead of them if they worked relentlessly for them.  It was fueled by a desire to excel beyond state and reclaim a long-sought next New England title.  It was sparked by the knowledge if they achieved their goals through mid-November, that an excellent opportunity at NXN Northeast awaited them.

And, finally, a big year for the Hawks had its foundation in a long-time group of coaches, led by Jim Doyle, that lived the tradition of the program and emphasized the family, and its ultimate inspiration in fulfilling the dream in honor of a fallen member of the team family.  With that, Bishop Hendricken has swept through Rhode Island, scored an important regional win at Manchester, put together a strong showing at Great American, and finally recaptured that New England title – despite their #1 having an off day and missing their #5.

Running well at Bowdoin Park this weekend at NXN NE would achieve the final goal for the year for the program – and they all know the bonus that awaits if they can continue to ride the momentum they’ve built and put it all together Saturday.

Having completed your regular season slate, how is the team refocusing and preparing for NXN?  The team was 13th in the region each of the last two years.  How important is it to everyone to move up, and what is the team’s mindset and goal for this?

Coach Jim Doyle: It is now difficult to determine when the regular season ends.  We have had the New England Championships and the Nike Regional on our schedule from the beginning of the season.  During the past two years, we had a young team and came to the Nike Regional meet for experience and as a post season reward trip. 

We believe that there are at least 8-10 great teams at NXN NE.  We believe that you can make a case that it is the deepest region in the country.  We are coming to the meet with the goal to compete against these teams and see where we can stack up.  If we are 1st or 2nd or if we are 5th, and if the team runs well, then we will be proud. 

Our mindset is that we have worked hard, really hard.  We have trained as a team together since June.  Our three seniors (Jake Sienko, Brian Doyle, and Mike McKenzie) have been together for a few years.  We have earned a chance to win a trip to Portland.  Our chance, our moment…that is the mindset.

Jake Sienko: The team has been focusing on NXN since the summer. It's been a goal, starting three years ago, to return the program to prominence.  After state, where we didn’t perform up to our own expectations, we regained that team aspect of cross country.  We were again focused on our goals and put that focus into preparing for the bigger races. As our coach said, “One day in victory, one day in defeat.” 

We knew the season wasn't over after winning New Englands.  As I mentioned before, we've had the regional set in the back of our minds for a long time. We know that there are probably ten teams that all have an equal chance of qualifying to Portland, so we respect the competition. At the same time, our biggest strength has been proving people wrong. It seems like we are the only people in the whole country that know who we are and what we can do. Because of this, we have grown together. Our mindset going in is that we are the underdogs in what has been a crazy ride so far, and we don't want it to end.

I want to get a breakdown of your season, from your perspective, and how it unfolded, how the team navigated the different stages, and how everyone’s perspective on it evolved.  It seems like you didn’t get a lot of competition in-state most of the year, but it seems like two big mileposts for the early part of the year were the big Manchester Invite and, of course, Great American.  First, what did Manchester tell you about your team and how significant was that victory?

Coach Jim Doyle: Well, we put a lot of work in this summer.  The kids trained hard and the coaching staff tried to pick a good schedule – with 5-6 meets where we would really race and test ourselves.  We have a deep enough team that our varsity only had to run two dual meets and they did them as tempo runs.  Our JV team was very important to us in that capacity.  I specifically have to thank seniors Brian Brazzeau, Dave Blessington, and Aaron McInnis (Our Varsity II group) for this.

The season really started with Manchester.  We went out conservatively, as did Bishop Guertin, then it became a match race.  I do not think that either team expected to run that fast that day.  Our top guy, Jake Sienko, closed in 4:40.  Their guy, Francis Hernandez, was even better than that.  It was close and we eked out a great victory (and won the freshman and JV races, too).  We were most happy about our pack running that day and what we achieved.  Sienko was awesome, Brian Doyle had one of the top 25 times ever at the meet, and Mike McKenzie, Mark Vouno (our sophomore) and Ryan Meehan (junior) really pushed each other.  Manchester is a Nike meet and has great tradition.  We were there in 1994 when Mortimer and Downing went 1-2 in the first of 6 or 7 races against each other. 

That individual battle is similar to the battle between us and Guertin.  We won at Manchester, they got us at Great American, and we won at New Englands.  At this point, we have joked that we might as well line up a few more in December and make it a best of seven.  It might be like a Red Sox-Yankees series.  In short, Guertin is an awesome team with a really superb coach.  They are a class act.

Jake Sienko:  In our minds, this season started right after we won state last year. We had been trying to put this together for three years and we knew we had work to do. Our team has changed a lot since then, and the whole team has stepped up. Our philosophy has been that we win cross country meets in the summer. This team is great because everyone dedicated themselves.

Our goal coming into this year was to try to be the best ever from our state. The history and legacy of Hendricken is pretty extensive, so comparing ourselves to past teams definitely helps to motivate us. We went into Manchester essentially unknown. We knew we weren't supposed to win, but our goal was again to prove to everyone that we are back. We really respect those teams in New Hampshire, so we knew it would be tough. They were the kings and we were going to their own course to try to knock them off the top.

After that race we really believed that we could run with anyone in the country. That race was probably the key to our season, because when we came back to New Englands, we knew we had a shot.

Please talk about the Great American trip.  Was part of the motivation to prepare the for NXN?  How did you feel it went and did it accomplish what you wanted it to?

Coach Jim Doyle: We have gone to Great American in the past.  The trip to North Carolina (vs. Alabama) is much easier logistically for the Northeast teams (though the travel was still a bit draining and we probably suffered a bit).  .  The trip was designed to prepare us for our three goals (win state, compete well at New Englands, compete well at Nike Regional).  Also, we feel like we went to New Hampshire to race Bishop Guertin and Pinkerton, and we went to Great American to race the good teams from the Southeast.  We thought that the competition would serve us well when we were back in our home state. 

The trip was great.  Jake again was awesome with his 3rd-place finish.  He was improving every race and his 15:20 put him on the national scene.  Brian Doyle had a good race, and it was Ryan, Mike and Drew Manning with great pack running.

Jake Sienko:  Most outsiders would probably say that our trip to Great American was not a great success. We went to win, but came away with 3rd. In our minds, though, it was a success in that it kept us moving forward. It taught us how to lose, and as a confident team we needed that. We had a great upset win the previous week, so getting beaten was tough, but it has made us stronger. I know a lot of the underclassmen are looking forward to going back there in the future to try to win it.

Coach, can you talk a little bit about the background of this program, particularly since you took it over?  What are some of its distinctive aspects in terms of your training philosophy and other principles you stress?

Coach Jim Doyle: I have been at Bishop Hendricken since 1994.  Before that, I was at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket.  I coached two Foot Locker Finalists at St. Ray’s and won a New England title.  Since at Hendricken, we have won three New Englands.  We have won the watches at Manhattan.  Bishop Hendricken has won 10 New Englands total (the most of any school), but it is more difficult to win them now.  Earlier, there were only a few of the states that participated in the championship. 

Our coaching philosophy stresses consistency, a love for running, and excellence.  We basically follow the Jack Daniel system.  We like to have a couple of hard workouts per week.  We value the long run and the hills.  Summer training is important to us.  We want to have athletes that will grow with our program.  We have a dedicated freshman coach, Dan Brennan.  Dan spent time at Iona College.  He watches our freshman, brings them into the program.  We try not to spoil them too early.  Our top runners build to 70 miles a week this summer.  During the season, we stay around 50-60 per week. 

We limit races, but it is still difficult in high school to do much more than that in New England.  A trip to NXN would be a crowning achievement.

Coach, when you look at the teams you’ve had over the years, how does this one fit in?  You’ve coached a lot of champions, but from what I’ve read, you really hold this group in high regard.  Please talk about this group and what makes them stand out.

Coach Jim Doyle: II am not too proud to say it – we, as a coaching staff, love this team.  They have great leadership and great competitiveness.  We have three awesome seniors in Sienko, Doyle, and Mackenzie.  Jake is the top runner, but as soon as he finishes he looks to see where his teammates are.  Whatever college coach gets him has a late bloomer and a lucky find. 

Both Brian and Mike suffered from iron disorders (ferritin) last year.  Since we have gotten most of that worked out, they have been awesome.  We have had a few bumps along the way, but the best is yet to come.  I truly believe that.  Both guys love running.  If the race is decided in the last 200, and Brian and Mike are on my team, I like my chances.

Ryan Meehan, our top junior, is nicknamed the Lumberjack.  He is tough as nails.  If I told you to look at the starting line of the race, and I told you one kid is nicknamed the Lumberjack; you would pick Ryan.  He has come through, time after time.  At New Englands, he was awesome.  If you don’t believe me, it was documented by FloTrack!  Andrew Andraka has been great.  He was the seventh man most of the season, but at New Englands, he was our fifth.  He is unassuming, but do not count him out.  Mark Vuono is our sophomore.  We call him the “The Student.”  Every trip we go on, he is reading a book for English or History class.  He has no fear.  Drew Manning, a junior, is a phenomenal 2nd generation runner.  His dad, Walter, was a state champion and a great runner at Northeastern College.  Drew is capable of greatness.  He was a top 5 in runner for us much of the season.  He was hurt and out for the New England meet.  He is back and we think that he can contribute at the regional.

The pink elephant in the room is that this team has experienced tragedy.  Brian Doyle’s father (my brother), Bobby Doyle, tragically passed away when Brian was a sophomore – two years ago this December.  Bobby was on the University of Texas El Paso NCAA championship team in 1969.  He was one of the premier American marathon runners in the 1970s and 80s, finishing as high as 5th and 7th at Boston and had a PB of 2:14.  He won Rhode Island’s Ocean State Marathon seven times.  It is difficult to say, but there is no doubt that Bobby will be with us on Saturday.  He would tell the kids to get out, hang in and make it hurt.  He used to say, “You can’t teach guts.”  He would love this team. 

We have a strong sense of family and tradition.  All three assistant coaches ran for me here and all love the program.  We believe that we are teaching life lessons.  The vehicle is XC or track and field, but we try to teach consistency, hard work and a commitment to excellence.  The school’s Catholic values fit perfectly with our program.  This has been fostered by excellent young men over the years.  My assistant coach, Nate Greene, talks about a brotherhood that has been established over the years.  Our coaches are close, our alumni are close.  They are all watching.  If we are lucky enough to be in Portland, it would be for the team, the school, the administrators, and the alumni, past and present.

Jake, I’m guessing from the results that the New Englands were a tough race for you (because of illness or injury?) and at same time, for the team, a 1-point thriller victory.  I can only imagine how you felt finishing further back than your capabilities, then learning the team still got the victory.  Would you relive that race and the aftermath for me?

Jake Sienko: At New Englands, I really just had an off race.  It wasn't due to injury or illness, just a bad race. From when I crossed the line, and all the way up to the awards ceremony, we thought we had gotten second place.  It wasn't until a coach from another Rhode Island team called Coach Doyle and told him that we realized out we had won.  It really is a great feeling not running your fifth man and not having a great race, but having your 6th and 7th man step up to cover your back. Bishop Hendricken hadn't won it since 2002 and we felt like it was our job to bring the program back. There's no way I would trade what happened that day for an individual victory. The good thing for us is that we are all healthy now and have stayed very focused on our next race this weekend.

Let’s say you guys find yourself at NXN in a few weeks, and there’s some social time with some other teams.  They ask you, what is it like running for Bishop Hendricken?  What is the school like and what is it like running in Rhode Island?  What would you tell them?

Jake Sienko: Going to Bishop Hendricken is great. It is one of the best academic schools in the state. It's an all-boys Catholic school, so when you come here, you definitely feel the camaraderie and brotherhood that everyone shares. The Catholic aspect gives us a great sense of family. None of us would want to go anywhere else.

Running in Rhode Island, it's easy to get a false sense of how good you are. We've won a lot of state championships and it's tempting to take the easy way out and say that's enough. This team has been great this year because no matter what we do, we always want more. We saw Andrew Springer win the national title in the mile last year, and it made us think, “Why not us?”

Coach Jim Doyle: We are proud to be a team from Rhode Island.  There are a great deal of great coaches and great teams here (Kenwood in Cumberland, Caron in Ponagansett, Tetrault at North Kingston, Martin, McGinn, and Skelly at LaSalle, to name a few).  We know that Rhode Island is overlooked because it is a small state.  At times, our team has been frustrated with the national rankings.  We want to prove that we can compete with the best.  We have had runners graduate from Hendricken and go on to be great collegiate athletes, runing 4-minute miles.  Last year, Westerly’s Andrew Springer put Rhode Island on the map again.  We would love to represent Rhode Island out in Portland.  We hope that the LaSalle and Barrington girls can join us.  Good luck to everyone at the regional. 

There is a store in Providence that sells t-shirts.  The t-shirt has a picture of Texas.  Within the state of Texas, there is a picture of Rhode Island drawn to scale.  Obviously, Rhode Island is not much more than a speck on Texas.  Underneath, the picture, there is written in script, “Don’t mess with Rhode Island either.”  So, yeah, that is our mantra.  With a little help from Bobby this weekend, we might be able to make that come to life.

All photos from Dan Brennan (from top): The BH pack at the early-season Injury Fund meet; Ryan Meehan and Brian Doyle; getting fired up before the state meet; a team shot after New Englands