Waterville native Tiana Thomas opened her sophomore cross country season at the University of New England by finishing third at the nine-team Shacklette Invitational. Her time of 19 minutes, 7 seconds for the 5-kilometer course meant Thomas had to re-assess her goals.

“I wanted to be under 20 minutes,” Thomas said. “That was a goal coming into the season. Now it would be great to break 19, if I could.”

Thomas may have set her goals on the low side because she was unsure whether she was fully recovered from iliotibial band friction syndrome (basically, an overused knee due to running).

“This was my first big step after that injury, so I was really surprised,” she said.

As a senior at Waterville, Thomas finished 13th in the Class B state cross country meet. UNE coach Ron Ouellette also coaches track at Biddeford, and said he’s always looking at meet results for potential recruits.

“It’s actually pretty easy when you’re talking about the running sports with all the websites,” Ouellette said. “She also, I believe, contacted me.”

Part of what brought Thomas to UNE is that she could major in dental hygiene. It’s a major most schools in New England don’t have.

“Ever since I reached high school, it’s something I really wanted to do,” Thomas said. “I really love going to the dentist. I really love helping people, so I thought that would be a good way to do that.”

Once he got to speak with Thomas, Ouellette was doubly impressed. He said his first impression of Thomas was, “they type of athlete that we’re looking for here: Intelligent, nice kid, and a good athlete.”

“It’s such an important factor on this team that we get good kids,” Ouellette said. “It’s something we strive for. I always tell them that if you have good kids, you’re not always going to win — that’s impossible — but you’ve never going to have a bad year.”

Thomas made all-Commonwealth Coast Conference as a freshman last fall as the Nor’easters won their second straight conference title. At the conference meet, she was first among UNE runners.

Ouellette loves how hard Thomas works — most of the time anyway. Ouellette and Thomas both said that she trains so hard that Ouellette has to ask her to back off.

“There are times, we have to put a harness on her,” Ouellette said. “It’s supposed to be a rest day. You can’t pound it all the time. She’s starting to get it.”

“Sometimes I feel like if I’m going at an easy pace, I’m not really getting much out of it,” Thomas said. “But I’m getting better. I need to realize that recovery days need to be recovery days, and hard days need to be hard days.”

Naturally, one of the reasons Ouellette wants Thomas to learn that lessons is so she can be healthy for the big-time meets.

“Come the championship part of our season, the conference meet, she should be a major factor in our conference,” Ouellette said.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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