Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Smooth operator: Ben Groleau continues to find cross country success at UMass

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)
(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Massachusetts senior distance runner Ben Groleau has always been a “go with the flow” kind of athlete, and so far it has served him well. The flow has carried him toward the Atlantic 10 conference record in the 1500 meter run in the 2015 outdoor track season, and the highest finish in program history for the Minutemen this fall at the A-10 cross country championship, coming in second place.

“I don’t really like to fight the natural flow of things, you usually end up in a lot of frustration if you do,” Groleau said.

While his naturally calm demeanor and laid back personality takes the stress off his own shoulders, it can also be a distinct advantage and even a weapon against his opponents.  Few athletes can handle the combination of stress from practice, competition and school work, among other things, without having their performances suffer.

Groleau handles it with calm and grace.

“He has a rare type of athletic personality that allows him to approach everything with the same amount of energy, and it makes him an incredibly consistent performer,” UMass coach Ken O’Brien said.

Where the flow began

It was Groleau’s father that brought him to the sport of track, introducing him to running when he started school at Framingham High School. Groleau proceeded to become a four-time Bay State All-Star, Division I state champion in the mile and 1000 meter run over the next four years. He also held school records in the mile, 1000 and 800 meter runs.

However, it wasn’t just the results that caught O’Brien’s attention when recruiting Groleau in 2012.

“I got a chance to see his races online and what struck me was his flawless running stride and the way he handled himself during the race,” O’Brien said. “Our sport has always been objective when recruiting, but I typically like to recruit beyond just the results, I like to see the athletes warm up and compete.”

While he was seen as more of a mid-distance runner in high school, his mile time stood out the most. His running form was just right for O’Brien to push Groleau further than he would for other runners that strain themselves more during races.

This process of moving to longer distances began slowly when Groleau arrived for his first year at UMass. It was also clear to his teammates and coaches that his personality matched his running style.

“He’s one of a kind, a little intimidating when I first meet him, but once he opened his mouth I realized he was a big goof ball,” teammate Blake Croteau said. “He’s the rotter in a winkle engine.”

Declaring as a mechanical engineering major when he arrived added the stress of a rigorous major along with being a varsity athlete. However, Groleau’s personality allows him to handle all of it in stride.

“The way I am, if I wasn’t running I would be doing something else with my free time, so it’s not that hard to balance it all for me,” Groleau said.

“A lot of my memories of him are the two of us being locked inside the engineering lab studying until 3 a.m.,” Croteau, also an engineering major, said. “He’s the kind of guy who will do homework for 12 hours and laugh about doing homework for 12 hours.”

Groleau’s record-setting performance last spring was a result that reflected the progress that he had been making his whole career, especially within the last year. Against a loaded field of runners in the 1500 meter that included this year’s A-10 champion Steven Flynn of George Mason, Groleau set the conference record for best time.

O’Brien has noticed that Groleau has continually and consistently progressed as he has gotten older.

This success continued well into the fall season as well, as he established himself as the top runner on an underestimated Minutemen squad that was projected to finish as low as eighth in the conference. With the help of his second place finish and solid performances from his teammates, the team took home second place.

“It’s funny, if you asked me who the top seven runners were going to be at the beginning of the season, it would have been a lot different than what it ended up being, but the guys who were there really stepped up that day,” Groleau said.

While he may not see himself as much of a leader for the rest of the team, Groleau’s presence still has an impact on his teammates. His personality leading up to races and the way he competes transcends beyond his finishing position and final time.

“He’s always so under stressed heading into a race that being around him really calms you down beforehand,” teammate Dan Sheldon said. ”He can turn any bad day into a good race the way he grinds through races, and I’ve never seen him really have a bad race.”

O’Brien said Groleau’s adjustments have been subtle.

“Last year he really started to respond to the subtle assessments of his talent and capabilities that we were making. Holding out a goal and allowing him to accept it can be much more effective than forcing it upon him and having him reject it,” O’Brien said.

Approaching his last two seasons in collegiate track and field, Groleau has one goal set in his own mind, which is to break four minutes in the mile. The current men’s record is four minutes, four seconds, but according to him, it is more important that he personally breaks the four-minute barrier, rather than thinking of the record and being the first to do so.

His life both on and off the track will have to line up perfectly for Groleau to accomplish this milestone. He will also need to have a good day of racing as well, but if there’s any runner on the team capable of breaking the four-minute mark, Groleau is certainly the best equipped to do it.


Nicholas Souza can be reached at [email protected].

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