Kevin Desmond crossed the finish line and couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I honestly felt like I was dreaming,” he said. “When I crossed the finish line, I glanced over at the time and I was in complete awe. I couldn’t believe it. Did that really happen?”

Oh, it did.

The Monmouth native and University of Southern Maine sophomore set a school record in the 800-meter run with a time of 1 minute, 51.70 seconds last weekend at the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association championships in Boston, Mass.

The record time, which came in the trials Friday, vaulted Desmond into sixth in the Division III rankings for the event.

The top 14 will compete in the Division III national championships in Naperville, Ill., on March 8-9.

“It’s not official yet, but it looks pretty good,” Desmond said. “We’ll find out in a week. I never expected this to happen. It was a huge goal on the agenda, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Added USM coach Scott Hutchinson: “I told him that when you cross that finish line make sure that you gave it your all, and he did. We feel confident he’ll be moving on to the next level. He’s had a heck of a year.”

Desmond said a change to his mental approach helped him on his record-breaking run.

For the first time this season, he stopped focusing on the splits he hoped to reach in the race.

“I definitely went in with a different mindset,” said Desmond, an exercise physiology major. “I knew the paces I wanted to hit but I just wanted to race. Before I would focus on a specific time I needed to hit. I just wanted to focus on racing hard. There were two guys from UConn who were in front of me, and I just wanted to beat them. It’s all I focused on.”

Although Desmond didn’t catch Connecticut’s Alvaro Chavez and Alex Bennatan, he still shaved nearly six seconds off his personal best time.

Desmond finished sixth in the trials to advance to the finals the following day. He finished eighth in the finals with a time of 1:59.09.

“It was tough to go back to back,” Hutchinson said. “To come back and duplicate his trials time, that was going to be tough. In the last 300 meters his legs tightened up on him, too.”

Desmond has run the 400, 600, 800 and even the mile this winter for the USM indoor track and field team. The 800 is his primary event, as it was when he attended Monmouth Academy.

He trains with fellow 800 runner Parker Chipman, a senior who finished sixth in the finals in 1:53.09.

“Kevin has a great training partner and that helps out a lot,” Hutchinson said. “He’s really coming into his own. Kevin has always had great talent, but he made a giant commitment to get into the weight room to get stronger. He just became stronger and faster this year. We increased his miles and he’s really bought into the system.”

USM will compete in the ECAC Division III championships this weekend in New York. With his spot in nationals all but secure, Desmond will focus on a pair of relays, the 4×400 and 4×200.

“I just want to keep my legs sharp,” he said. “If I hadn’t qualified for nationals I would’ve done the 800 at the ECACs. If I can get to nationals, my goal is to shoot high.

Hutchinson agreed.

“There’s no holding back now,” he said. “We’ll tell him to go for it.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

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