The Day's All-Area Boys' Cross Country Runner of the Year: East Lyme's Luke Anthony
East Lyme High School senior Luke Anthony never really considered the fact that he's a cross country specialist, more of a cross-training enthusiast with an eye on someday making the United States Olympic Team as a triathlete.
The heights to which Anthony has ascended recently, competing at the Eastbay Cross Country national championship meet Dec. 11 at Balboa Park in San Diego — among the top 40 boys in the nation — say otherwise.
"A dream come true," East Lyme boys' cross country coach Mike Flynn said of his star pupil the day Anthony finished eighth in the Northeast Region in 15 minutes, 28.3 seconds, earning his ticket to San Diego.
In his senior cross country season at East Lyme, Anthony won the Eastern Connecticut Conference (16:20) and Class MM state championships (15:59) for the first time in his career, was fifth at the State Open (15:49) and fourth in New England (16:18). Ten boys from each region then earned the right to compete at the national meet, with Anthony eventually coming in 26th in the country.
Anthony, choosing between a path with Project Podium — the USA Triathlon men's elite development program — and a career as a collegiate cross country runner, signed a letter of intent to run cross country at the Division I level for Providence College.
He was named The Day's 2021 All-Area Boys' Cross Country Runner of the Year, awarded that distinction for the third straight season.
"I'm excited to push myself on the running front," Anthony said prior to leaving for the national meet, his season still not over at that point. "These racing experiences, like nationals, I don't go in thinking I'm going to get this place or stick with this person. Let's just go into this and learn.
"I'm really looking forward to it, coming from dual meets to ECCs, state meets; it's progressively gotten more competitive as we go. It's going to be an exponentially different racing experience. Instead of thinking I can finish in the top 10 or the top 5, I'm thinking, 'Let's see how many I can beat.'"
Flynn said Anthony's gravitation toward thinking of himself as a runner started in the spring. He ran the mile in 4:18.30, a personal best, to finish ninth at the State Open, having come from a time of 4:37.8 when the dual meet season first started.
"If you told me I was going to run a 4:18 that year, I'd tell you 'you're crazy,'" Anthony said. "It surprised me."
He dedicated the summer to triathlons, earning his card as a professional triathlete by winning the junior elite male division at the Flatland Cup Triathlon on July 11 in Des Moines, Iowa. Anthony competes as a triathlete for Balanced Art Multisport out of Utah, where he has spent long stretches training over the last few summers.
This fall, he came back to cross country, and, having gained experience competing if not exclusively running, he became dialed in, as he so often describes it.
The Vikings won their fourth straight ECC cross country title, a narrow six-point victory over Griswold with Anthony leading the way for a young team. East Lyme was third in Class MM, breaking a streak of three consecutive titles, but Anthony took individual honors.
"Once he got into races where he was up against the best in the state or New England or the northeast, he really loved and embraced that challenge, which helped make his accomplishments possible," Flynn said.
Anthony is so competitive that he doesn't need to hype himself up before a race, although he does have somewhat of a mild superstition involving his choice of socks.
"It's just inherent," Anthony said of his drive to compete. "I'm willing to go to some places (physically) that are just not fun. ... I say (going to nationals) is a learning experience, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to be competitive. I'm going in with a smart game plan and I'll let the competitiveness do it's own thing once I get in the race."
Anthony is undecided as to a major, but mentioned both kinesiology and environmental science as possibilities. He said that longtime Providence head coach Ray Treacy will continue to allow him to compete in triathlons as long as it doesn't conflict with his responsibilities for the Friars. Anthony received a scholarship to compete at Providence.
Rather than concluding his cross country career at East Lyme, Anthony has just begun.
"With Luke, it was more a process of his love for running evolving than it was a 'singular lightbulb going off' moment," Flynn said. "Starting last outdoor, there was a real shift in his mindset with running in general, which continued over the summer and then throughout cross country. It's been an amazing experience seeing his growth in such a short time from someone who was locally good to someone who is one of the top runners in the country.
"Luke is truly one of a kind and had a dream season but knowing him, and we've chatted some, we have some pretty big goals left to go before he graduates."
The Day's 2021 All-Area Boys' Cross Country Team
Player of the Year - Luke Anthony (East Lyme)
Tyler Crabb (NFA)
Brendan Fant (East Lyme)
Ethan Manfredi (NFA)
Carson Riley (Fitch)
Jacob Strain (Griswold)
Lucas Strain (Griswold)
Michael Strain (Griswold)
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