The next few weeks will determine the success of Sam Seekins and the Bowdoin College cross country team, but so far both are looking good.

The Erskine Academy graduate finished first in a season-opening 5 kilometer race at the University of Southern Maine and third in the 8k Wesleyan Invitational. At Wesleyan, Seekins and three of his teammates swept the top four spots, finishing within a second of one another.

“Sam’s part of a great group of juniors,” Bowdoin coach Peter Slovenski said. “They’ve all come back in great shape.”

Bowdoin competes in the Open New England championships Saturday in Westfield, Mass. followed by the State of Maine meet and the New England Small College Athletic Conference meet. The season concludes with the Division III New England meet and the NCAA national meet.

It’s a short season, one for which Seekins prepared well over the summer.

“I ran more mileage than I’ve ever run before,” said Seekins, who averaged between 70 and 80 miles a week. He took time out to win the Friends of the Fourth 5K road race in Winthrop that included about 650 runners.

The Polar Bears finished third in the regionals and 15th at the national meet last fall and Slovenski believes the team makes the top 10 at the nationals this season. He has similar expectations for Seekins.

“Sam’s got a great chance of making the All-New England team and being a contender for top 50 at the national meet,” he said.

Seekins has set a goal to make the All-American team which means he would have to finish among the top 35 runners at the national meet. He excelled at both cross country and track and field at Erskine, winning the Class B outdoor title at 3,200 meters his senior year. After a year at Bowdoin he experimented running barefoot to improve his technique and it paid off. This season, he wears minimalist shoes in practice once a week, and a regular shoes or something in between the rest of the time.

“As a freshman my turnover wasn’t very good,” Seekins said. “I’ve been working to improve my turnover and my posture. I’ve improved by thinking about it and also by doing strength training.”

Seekins’ athletic ability and competitive spirit have never been in question.

“In cross country he’s very reliable and durable and consistent,” Slovenski said. “In track he’s actually very dynamic and exciting. He surprises people and outkicks (them).”

Seekins won the New England Division III indoor track 5K title in 2010 and last year ran the fourth best 5k in Bowdoin history, completing the distance in 14 minutes, 44 seconds.

“It didn’t quite qualify me for nationals,” Seekins said. “It is definitely a No. 1 goal to run in the 14:20s this year.”

Bowdoin has proven a great fit for Seekins who loves the small school atmosphere and challenging academics. He’s also developed a strong relationship with Slovenski, who has coached cross country for 26 years and track and field for 23.

“He’s helped me realize how important running is to the rest of my life,” Seekins said.

Seekins, in turn, has brought a lot to the teams that Slovenski coaches.

“Sam makes the character of the team better just by his great attitude, his team spirit and his intelligence,” Slovenski said. “He’s also great at having an active lifestyle.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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