Whatever you want to call Jacob Hickey’s success in this first season running for the University of New England cross country team, do not call it beginner’s luck. Yes, Hickey stepped away from competitive running for two years, but this decision wasn’t made on a whim. Hickey has some serious running bonafides, and he’s proving it right now.

“I knew what he did in high school. With that kind of foundation, expectations were high,” said Ron Ouellette, UNE’s longtime cross country coach.

The Nor’easters cross country season is five weeks old. Hickey, a sophomore, has been selected as Commonwealth Coast Conference Rookie of the Week four times. Hickey has been conference Runner of the Week three times. This week, Hickey was a double conference honoree again, after placing eighth in a field of 223 runners at the Bowdoin Invitational/Maine Championship. Hickey’s time in the 8-kilometer (a shade under five miles) was 26:02.

“In high school he was dominant,” Ouellette said.”He’s starting to realize in the big picture, there’s a lot of outstanding runners.”

As a Winthrop High School senior, Hickey placed second in the Class C state meet. He won the Class C South regional meet by 42 seconds and Hickey was almost two minutes faster than his nearest competition in the Mountain Valley Conference championship. As talented a runner Hickey was in high school, basketball was the sport for which he was known.

Hickey was a 1,000-point scorer for the Ramblers. As a senior, he averaged 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3.7 steals per game. He led Winthrop to the Class C state championship game and was a finalist for Mr. Maine Basketball. When it was time to decide which sport he would pursue in college, basketball was the initial choice.

As a freshman on the UNE basketball team last season, Hickey played in 24 of the Nor’easters 36 games. In the offseason, he re-evaluated his options, with Ouellette encouraging Hickey to do both sports. A Dean’s List student and a Health, Wellness, and Occupational Studies major, Hickey didn’t want to divide his time too much.

So he said goodbye to the basketball team and joined the cross country squad.

“It didn’t work out necessarily last year,” is all Hickey would say about his time on the UNE basketball team. “I talked to coach Ouellette last fall and he planted the seed of running here. I’m putting all my effort into running, and it’s paying off so far.”

Hickey’s first race was a 5K at St. Joseph’s college.

“I did OK,” he said.

Hickey undersells his success, and he undersells it quite a bit. Hickey won the race with a time of 16:45, 37 seconds ahead of runnerup Ben Wright, his UNE teammate.

“Coming in first was kind of eye-opening,” Hickey said. “I said, ‘I might be able to do this.'”

Hickey earned another first place a week later in the UNE Invitational. And another first in the Pop Crowell Invitational in Wenham, Massachusetts. The Bowdoin Invitational was Hickey’s introduction to top notch college competition, and he held his own.

“He was running against guys who are regionally and nationally ranked,” Ouellette said. “That’s what he needs. He need to face that type of competition.”

Hickey said he set his goals for this debut college running season low. He wants to learn the competition. Two years is a long time to be away from racing. Even if Hickey makes it look easy, it’s not.

“There’s runners I’m running against, they have times to be top runners in Division I. Three of the top runners at Bowdoin would be the top three at UMaine. I’m trying to stay with them,” Hickey said.

Hickey will run in the Western New England Invitational next Saturday, then the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship meet Oct. 27. The NCAA New England championship meet is in Brunswick on Nov. 10. That will be another chance for Hickey to measure himself against the best.

“I’m sure he’s set some (goals). Mine is, get through the season, see what it’s like. He has a chance to qualify for the national championship. It’s a tall order,” Ouellette said.

Hickey is a self-described “big competitor.” Tall orders are what he fills.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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