Clinton steps up to become leader on women's cross country team

With loss of one of the best runners in Big East history last season, senior Alexandra Clinton has become an leader on the team who guides by example.

Alexandra Clinton never thought about being a leader, not until this year started, at least. Clinton, who runs cross country for Syracuse University, is one of only three seniors on the women’s team this season.

The need for leadership of this young team was heightened after the graduation of Sarah Pagano — one of the most decorated female runners in Big East history.

Clinton is trying to pick up that slack, but she said it is all a bit weird.

“I am not used to it. I’m used to having . . . older girls ahead of me,” Clinton said. “Especially Sarah, because she grew up right around where I lived back home, so I am used to her being there.”

But her experiences qualified her to lead this team, she said. “I like being there for the younger girls and helping them out,” Clinton said. “And when there are struggles, I’ve been through all the struggles, and I’ve been here."

“I know kind of how things go, so being there to support them, it’s been exciting.”

Struggles started for Clinton as soon as she arrived on campus as a freshman. Clinton said she was easily the worst runner on the team that season.

Chris Fox, the head coach of the Syracuse cross country team, said that she came into college as a walk-on runner with average times, but, as the season progressed, he saw her phenomenal work ethic and go-getter attitude.

That work ethic has helped her flourish, although Clinton said, it hasn't been easy.

“She has made great progress,” Fox said. “She came in, and she’s worked really hard, and she’s figured out what it takes to be a college runner.”

Coach Fox said she was never happy with her results during her first seasons. But her nature made her stronger. 

“She’s very frustrated if she doesn’t perform at a very high level,” Fox said. “ You have got to appreciate that. She wants to be great. She wants to be even greater than she is, and that certainly bleeds down to the rest of the team.”

Jessie Petersen has seen the way Clinton rubs off on people first-hand. Petersen, a junior, trained with Clinton all of last year.

“She is someone who puts 100 percent forth every day—no matter if it’s core [exercises], if it’s lifting, if it's running, if it’s workouts.”

A silent leader

One of Clinton’s best qualities is her non-vocal approach, Petersen said. She is not out on the track barking orders; she is leading by example. Clinton probably doesn’t even realize she is leading most of the time, Petersen said.

Clinton pushed Petersen physically, never letting her cut workout a second short. But she also trained her mentally. Last season, the two worked out together, but Clinton would still race better than Petersen.

“I just couldn’t understand how I couldn’t keep up with her in races when we worked out together,” she said. “And it’s just, once you get out into the race, it’s a different mentality, and you have to really be racing everybody out there. And once I figured that out—just watching her do that—makes things clear for me.”

So far, this season, Petersen has started off hot, finishing third and fifth in the team’s first two meets. But Clinton started off a little slower, finishing 21st and eighth, respectively.

Even though she would like to finish higher, Fox has few worries about Clinton's season ahead. These first two meets are not as important, Fox said, and the team has had minimal rest. Once the season picks up, the team will get more breaks between meets, Fox said, and Clinton’s times will improve.

But Clinton isn’t worried about individual achievements, said Brianna Nerud, a sophomore on the team.

“I think she is one of the best teammates and one of the hardest-working people I’ve met,” Nerud said. “Every race, she is not really thinking about where her ranking is. She is thinking about how many points she can get for the team.”

Doing the right thing

Clinton may not go down in the records book the way Pagano has, but Fox said there is only one thing you need to know about her. “She does the right thing,” Fox said. “That’s the most important thing I want in a leader—people that buy into the program and believe, and she does.”

Clinton has the same expectation for every race. An expectation she said she will carry with her the rest of her life: to never stop striving for improvement.

“I don’t want to sit there being content,” Clinton said. “I always want more; I always want to run faster; I always want to get up there in a place higher; I always want to put the team in a better position to make it further.

“I think no matter what, I’m never going to be satisfied, but that is just my personality.”

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