Cross country: Allen making room at the top

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Ben Allen of Winthrop has been running cross country since the sixth grade. The senior has been with Winthrop coach Ed Van Tassel for six of the seven years.

This year, their hard work together has paid off. Allen has won three of his four races this season.

Van Tassel learned about Allen through another teacher at Winthrop Middle School. Van Tassel was coach of the middle school team at the time.

“My introduction to him was his advisor,” Van Tassel said. “His advisor said, ‘I have this kid who kind of likes to run. You should go talk to him.’ I talked to him, and that’s how his cross country career got started.”

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Running wasn’t anything knew to Allen’s family. His mother ran the Boston Marathon.

For Allen, it didn’t take much convincing to participate in the sport.

“It was my first week in middle school. Everybody was going out to play football,”  Allen said. “I was originally going out to play golf. I ran a couple of road races that summer. and I liked it. Van Tassel came up to me one day and asked if I like running. I was like, ‘Sure,’ and he told me how good the team was. That year he had a lot of good runners on it. A couple of the eighth graders asked me to run, which definitely helped. It’s been the best decision of my life.”

Allen became close to Van Tassel on and off the trails. The pair often talked about sports or life in general.

When Allen moved on to high school, he would have to work with a new coach. His first season on the high school team was a tough transition.

“My freshman year, it was a big jump. I definitely had some rough races and made a lot of mistakes,” Allen said. “There’s so much technique and strategy with every single race. I am not going to say coaching was any worse or anything like that, but (Van Tassel and I) are definitely the right fit. Without him for a year, you saw the results. I struggled a bit without his leadership.” 

Allen ran in six races his freshman year, finishing sixth and seventh in his first two events. He had a 14th-place finish at the MVC Championships and was 163rd at the Festival of Champions. He finished 31st at the Western Class C Championships and ended the season finishing 28th at the State Class C Championships.

Things turned around his sophomore year when Van Tassel took over the high school program. The results started to come for Allen, who had five top-five finishes and took 11th at states.

“It was just a coincidence on how it worked out,” Allen said. “It ended up working out for me.”

Last year, Allen had another strong season, winning once but finishing second four times. Josef Holt-Andrews dominated the competition in the MVC last season.

Van Tassel has known since Allen was in eighth grade that it was a matter of time before he started winning events.

“We were at a big meet that Scarborough put on at Smiling Hill Farm,” Van Tassel said. “Most of my kids were wide-eyed and (thinking), ‘Oh my goodness.’ He just charged up to the front. He didn’t win the meet, but finished in the top 10. There were a lot of (Class) A schools  and big, talented schools. At that point I knew I had a good runner on my hands.”

Allen finished fourth at the state championships. He didn’t run as well as he wanted, but there was a good reason. A few nights before the race, he saw the Boston Red Sox win the World Series in person.

“For him, he was like, ‘It’s a once in a lifetime,'” Van Tassel said. “I said, ‘Go, go. What are the odds you will ever see that again?'” 

He hopes he can prepare better this time around.

“It definitely is motivation. I didn’t like how it ended last year,” Allen said. “I didn’t like how it ended in my sophomore year. I am really hoping this year we can close the door and end strong.”

He did have a strong start to the championship season with a 16th-place finish at the Festival of Champions on Saturday.

Allen plays basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.

“From what we have seen in high school, I think if he sticks to running, the best is still definitely to come,” Van Tassel said.

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