International quality, local committment

“Fairest and best adorned is she whose clothing is humility,” said 19th century Scottish poet James Montgomery. If Montgomery’s words are true, the cross country/track and field superstar Caroline Cretti ’06 is absolutely stunning.

When contacted by the Record and asked if she would be willing to be profiled she agreed to doing so, but only on the condition that the angle taken be that of “a focus on the team and the team’s accomplishments.”

But, Caroline, this is an individual profile. It’s supposed to focus on you.

“Just being surrounded by such remarkable athletes all the time, you can’t not be modest,” Cretti said. “That’s what so great about running. I’ll finish a race and a few minutes later I’ll see another girl limping across the finish line and she’s pushing just as hard as anyone else did. Me breaking 17 minutes is just as amazing as a girl on our team breaking 20. Everyone’s accomplishments are equally impressive.”

Cretti’s accomplishments certainly are impressive. After finishing first in the 6k by nearly a minute with a time of 20:17 at the Cross Country National Championship last January, Cretti was named top frosh runner in the country as well as New England Runner of the Year. She also appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.”

“To this day, I haven’t figured out how I landed in ‘Faces in the Crowd,’” Cretti said. “Look at Jenn Campbell [’05], she’s setting national records.”

In April, Cretti won the 10k race at the NESCAC Championship to help the Ephwomen dominate the competition for the third straight year. Though the time was not Cretti’s personal best it was good enough to qualify for NCAAs and set a meet record. At NCAAs, Cretti again breezed by competition for all 3.1 miles of the race and won by an 11-second margin. By winning the event, Cretti made herself eligible to compete in Nationals in Palo Alto, Calif.

At Nationals, Cretti ran against the fastest under-20 runners in the country, not only Div. III competition. But the Div. I competition in California soon witnessed what we in the Purple Valley knew to be true, as Cretti finished the 5k in second place. By finishing in the top two, Cretti received a bid to play in the Pan Am Games.

“I ended up getting second, and the top two qualify for the Pan Am Games, which is just a meet in Latin America,” Cretti said. Just a little meet with the best athletes in the Western Hemisphere.

But Cretti turned down an opportunity to play in the Pan Am Games because the games seemed a bit disorganized, Williams Cross Country was coming up and it was 115 degrees in Barbados.

“Junior nationals were so awesome and competitive and it seemed a little anticlimactic to go down to some meet that didn’t seem to be put together too well,” Cretti said. “I also need to prepare mentally for the cross country season. I just made the decision to focus on next year [at Williams] rather than compete at the Pan Am Games.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Cretti is so appreciative of her team at Williams is because her high school in Colorado did not field its own track and field team. Instead, she traveled 15 miles to another school.

“In high school no other girls ran. . .anything,” Cretti said. “To come here and just be surrounded by people who love it, it’s just so amazing.”

Cretti got her start at running when she was about eight years old by tagging along with her mom on runs – sometimes runs that would last less than a hundred yards. But it would be a long time before Cretti would ever run for an organized team.

Throughout elementary and middle school and up to her first year in high school, Cretti was always a soccer player.

“My goal was to be a world cup soccer player,” Cretti said. “But my [high school] soccer team was really terrible and our season ended early.”

So perhaps the lack of a soccer postseason turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Cretti decided to join her sister on the track and field team.

“My sister sprinted so I figured, ‘I can do it and so I might as well.’ I did the last couple of meets and ended up making it to States.” Cretti said so nonchalantly you would have thought she merely won the Participatory Award in middle school gym class.

“I got pressured, I suppose, to give up soccer after that,” Cretti said. “But in the end I made the decision on my own, because the soccer program was so bad and I wasn’t going to go anywhere with that.”

So the long-time midfielder hung up her cleats along with her World Cup dreams to take up running. And though the transition wasn’t always easy, it appears as though Cretti feels confident in her decision.

“I remember the first game I watched after I quit. I was working out at the track and the soccer team came out to play and I just started crying. Oh my God, I wanted to play,” Cretti said. “It was passion. But running has become my passion; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

And although Cretti admits that soccer is more of a team-oriented game from a traditional perspective, she finds the teamwork in running to be critical to a team’s success.

“With running it’s more intangible. If I’m passing a teammate, I need to give words of encouragement. It’s not as concrete as passing the ball, but it does matter,” Cretti said.

By the end of her high school career she had received offers from a few Div. I schools, including University of Maryland and University of Georgia, but Cretti spurned those offers in favor of the NESCAC.

“The programs at Maryland and UGA were not that strong. It’s not like some Div. I powerhouse was recruiting me. I had no chance to go there and compete.”

But, Caroline, didn’t you face those runners from the power Div. I schools at Nationals?

“Well, yes, but those were only those runners who are under 20,” Cretti said, shyly.

Cretti contacted coaches at Middlebury and Williams, since under NCAA guidelines, Div. III school are prohibited from making the initial contact with high school athletes. The coach at Middlebury assured her admission without any consideration of her academics, a tactic that may have backfired with Cretti. Williams Head Coach Pete Farwell made no such promises to Cretti. Instead, he urged her to try to better her SAT scores to bolster her chances of being accepted. Cretti liked the fact that nothing was promised at Williams and the integrity of the admissions process was a positive of the school, whereas at Middlebury, “it just seemed too easy. I worked so hard in high school. It was kind of a let down for it to seem so easy.”

President Schapiro has a pillow sitting in his office at home, presumably a gift from an alumnus, that jokingly reads, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re from Williams.” The logic being that when you are number one, it’s difficult not to be a little arrogant. Well, it appears as though Cretti is living proof that excellence need not always beget haughtiness.