One could say that Glenn Eckert had the good fortune to step into a great cross-country program on a remarkable run; or one could say that Eckert stepped into the New Paltz cross country program and made it even better. I’ll opt for the latter.
Humbled in the face of his predecessor, Fred Pavlich, and his unprecedented run of eight straight MHAL championships, Eckert knew the challenge in 2001, his first year as head coach. “The team that year was mostly seniors and thankfully adopted well to my training style — Fred’s was more speed-oriented, while mine was more mixed speeds and more distance oriented — and won the MHAL championship with Sean Corbett the best runner in the Section. It was my first championship team…and just really a fun year.”
Starting his own “run of excellence”, Eckert’s New Paltz boys cross country teams won six MHAL titles (2001, 2010-2014) and three Section 9 championships (2009-2011), and crowned nine individual MHAL champions and 10 Section 9 title winners, plus one State Champion in Dan Busby in 2005. Eckert had an easy time reminiscing about them all…
“Sean (Corbett) was just a hard worker and had his older brother Ryan as an example. He set his goal for his senior year to win the MHAL and Section 9 championships…and he did. And finished fourth at States. At the time the highest finish ever for a New Paltz boy. Our bus driver to the State meet, who was a National 800 runner, said it brought tears to her eyes to see Sean run. He was a special kid.”
“Laura (Van Alst — Eckert coached both boys and girls for a couple years before present girls coach Ann Gregory came on board) was just so strong. She won Section 9 in 2002 and in the State meet at Sunken Meadow she took the big hill, starting at the bottom in 56th place, she was fifth at the top, powering past the other runners. She eventually finished 14th.”
And then there was Dan Busby, who won both the MHAL and Section 9 titles in 2005 and 2006. “Dan was a machine. Incredibly mentally strong, he had one way of running: from the lead. The Section 9 race the year he won States, he faced a horrible head-wind and still almost broke the 15-minute mark, which is National time. An incredible runner.”
“Nick (Mancuso) won both (MHAL and Section 9 in 2007) because he wanted it so bad. He was a tough kid, who was completely no-nonsense out there. A captain of the team, he whipped the team into gear.”
“Brian (Busby), in some ways, had to contend with his older brother. But he had lots of other interests than running: music, ecology, I think he’s an ornithologist now, so he kind of deflected the pressure of Dan’s records. And he was just so fluid a runner. Easy going out there.” Brian Busby won Sections in 2009 and then won the MHAL and Section 9 in 2010.
In 2011 began the Mazzucca era, with yet another Busby thrown in for good measure. “Alfredo Mazzucca (who won both titles in 2011 and 2012) was the most driven to succeed I ever had run for me. He always felt he should do better. Never wanted to lose. Another front-of-the-pack runner, he was also a great captain of the team; a nice cross between rah-rah and laid back Lorenzo Mazzucca (who won both in 2013 and the MHAL title in 2014) was quiet, a mellow kid, he modeled his older brother in some ways, but sat back and waited more for his moment than, like Alfredo, commanding the pace, the race itself. Both just great guys.”
The last Busby — David — finished third to Alfredo and Lorenzo in the 2011 MHAL’s and second to Alfredo in the 2011 Section 9. “David had his brother’s records and reputations, and Alfredo on the track, to contend with, otherwise I think he would have been a Section 9 champion. A shy kid, fluid runner.”
Which brings us to the present and diminutive Logan Linares, the Huguenots’ junior has been their top runner these past two seasons. “He runs a lot, maybe needing to dial it back a bit for his chance at MHAL or Section 9 titles, which I think he can do. He is New Paltz’s next great runner. A natural leader, he has great charisma, is a real hard worker…and yes, he’ll be New Paltz’s next champion.” And beside the above-mentioned, Eckert also gives credit to John Fullam, Brandon Zapotowski and Eric Lawson as strong captains over his 16 years at the helm of boys cross country.
So, with all the success, why are you retiring? I ask Eckert.
“My schedule was changed (Eckert teaches science at Valley Central) and it would make it hard for me to make practices here,” says the New Paltz lifer, “I didn’t want to make the guys concerned about that. But I will miss it all. The guys, of course, but also the support from the parents, administration, the town, and the aesthetics of cross country running: the woods, the mountains, the rail trail, the Preserve, Moriello orchards, all of it. New Paltz is a real running community where lots of parents encourage their kids to give cross country a try, so our athlete pool is a lot deeper than a lot of other places.”