For junior Kevin Manke, captain of the men’s cross-country team, running was not his first choice as far as sports go.

Freshman Vin Ferrer, on the other hand, was bred to be a runner since well before his time at Fairfield.

Today, the two are both core members of the revitalized men’s cross country team, which is enjoying a renaissance season.

Manke, the team’s captain, grew up in Ridgewood, N.J., where lacrosse is more a way of life then a sport.

Naturally, Manke was drawn to the sport that put his hometown on the map. That turned out to be a good move, since it was Kevin’s love for lacrosse that introduced him to cross-country.

‘A track coach in middle school asked me to run for his program and I ended up being one of the best kids on the team so I figured I’d stick with it,’ said Manke. ‘I did that until high school where I moved to (cross-country) because track at that level conflicted with lacrosse.’

He was named captain of the team his senior year. That season he led the Ridgewood Maroons to a fifth overall state ranking.’

Now, as a captain of Fairfield’s team, Manke has to deal with the youngest group of runners that Fairfield has seen in years.

A staple of that incoming class, though, is freshman Vin Ferrer, a native of Belford, N.J. who has quickly developed as the team’s leading runner early in the season.

Ferrer has been the Stags’ top threat in every meet this season, taking the position of the team’s top finisher in four of the team’s five meets.

Ferrer originally turned the heads of his elder peers at the Fairfield Invitational, the team’s second meet of the season and of Ferrer’s collegiate career.

Ferrer finished fifth out of 90 runners from various Connecticut schools, and was only beaten by four runners, all of whom run for Yale, a perennial lacrosse powerhouse and a team currently ranked fourth in the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association (NEIAAA) coaches’ poll.

‘Vinny (Ferrer) is my silent soldier,’ said Head Coach John Sagnelli. ‘He shows up for practice and shows up for the meet everyday and runs like it’s his last.’

Sagnelli made a point to use this season’s freshman class, coupled with poised leadership, as the driving force for turning the school’s cross-country program around.

But when asked of the most important aspect of the team, Sagnelli shows no hesitation.
‘We’ve had tremendous leadership,’ Sagnelli said. ‘I can’t say enough about the work they have done.’

Sagnelli added, ‘Kevin (Manke) and our team leadership, on both the men’s and the women’s team, is a big reason why this team is developing as a competitive program right now.’

Manke is the oldest member of the men’s team and has been given the task of grooming three sophomores and seven freshmen, including Ferrer.

‘I’ve definitely felt like I’ve had to step up as a leader,’ said Manke. ‘I know that all the younger guys are looking up to me so I constantly have to be the example for them to follow whether it’s on the course or off.’

Leading by example in high school is one thing, but leading by example in college, where temptation and opportunity to slack is much more prevalent, is a completely different beast.

‘Advice about running is only half my job,’ said Manke, noting that the other half is ‘making sure the younger guys feel comfortable on the team and at school, as well as them having a good time while staying in check.’

Actions mean more than words, and that is why this captain is so well received.

‘Some nights you can’t go out with your friends either because you have a test or a meet or workout the next day,’ said Manke. ‘You make sacrifices.’

Those sacrifices paid off in Fairfield’s last meet, The New England Championship, held at Franklin Park in Boston, Mass.

Manke broke his all-time fastest five mile times in the competition, running a 28:30.’

As for the team’s freshman sensation, Ferrer finished 91st in a field of 315 runners with a time of 26:07.00 in the 8k race. By comparison, Fairfield’s highest finisher only a season ago placed 190th out of 290 entrants.

To Manke and Ferrer, though, results only go so far in a sport that, despite its individual nature, preaches a team attitude.

In the eyes of the team, it isn’t about the individual; it’s about the team.

‘I couldn’t have done (well at Franklin Park) without the other guys,’ said Manke. ‘One of our other guys was hurting a little bit during the race, so when I caught up to him I was just trying to help him finish strong along with me, which he did.’

Cross-country may not have been Manke’s first choice but Sagnelli, Ferrer, and the rest of the men’s cross-country roster is sure glad it was his final choice.

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