No. 1 – Brunnette accomplishes an All-America trifecta
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – As Panther Nation gears up for the start of the 2018-19 season, we've decided to look back at the impressive 2017-18 year in Plymouth State Athletics. Over the next few weeks we will reflect on some of the most exciting performances of last season while counting down the Top Ten Moments of 2017-18.
No. 1: Brunnette accomplishes an All-America trifecta
The NCAA puts out sport sponsorship and participation studies each year. Although the 2017-18 study hasn't been published yet, it's safe to assume there hasn't been a significant change in the number of participants from just one year ago.
In 2016-17 the NCAA reported there were 5,888 men's cross country student-athletes, 9,549 men's indoor track and field student-athletes and 10,152 men's outdoor track and field athletes. Add that up and you get 25,589 total athletes between the three sports.
In 2017-18 a total of 441 male student-athletes reached All-America status between the three sports; 40 in cross country, 184 in indoor track and field, and 217 in outdoor track and field. Assuming the participation numbers were on par, that means roughly 1.72% of male athletes competing in those sports reached All-America status.
Being an All-American is hard, very hard. That's what makes the accomplishment so special. So when junior Sam Brunnette (Newport Center, Vt.) finished 25th at the NCAA Division III Men's Cross Country Championship last fall it was a very big deal.
Brunnette was already off to an impressive season after winning the individual title at the New England Regional Championship and being named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) New England Runner of the Year, to go along with a Little East Conference (LEC) title, set in record fashion, and LEC Runner of the Year honors.
"I felt myself in the 30s at one point," said Brunnette of the National Championship meet, "and I said to myself, you are not going any farther back.'" He finished the 8k race just six seconds off his personal best time, finishing in 24:48.83.
For most, the cross country season would have been impressive enough on its own, but Brunnette had barely scratched the surface of what would prove to be one of the most historic years in Plymouth State athletics' long and distinguished history.
During the indoor track and field season he finished in the top four of all seven races he competed in, including two firsts, two seconds and a pair of thirds. He swept the mile run and 3000 meter run at the LEC Championships, finished third in the mile at the New England Regional Championship to earn All-New England honors and was named the LEC Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, earning a second straight trip to the Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships in March.
A total of 86 male athletes were able to reach All-America status in two of the three sports, which works out to 0.34%. Brunnette became a member of the elite group when he took eighth in the 3000 meters in Birmingham, Ala.
"I wanted to get a spot in the middle of the pack on the rail," said Brunnette. "I knew guys would be going by me, but I just tried to use as little energy as possible. I was always counting. I knew every moment where eighth place was."
He posted the third fastest time of his career, 8:22.64, after running an intelligent race and being aggressive at the right spot. "I kept telling myself, 'Don't waste this opportunity,'" he added.
Being one of just 86 athletes out of more than 25,000 is incredible. But Brunnette still wasn't done. Even more impressive is the ultra-select group of five young men who achieved All-America status in all three sports. Just five athletes out of 25,589 … less than 0.02% … roughly the same odds as getting a hole in one. One of those five? You guessed it … Brunnette, who accomplished the trifecta with his most impressive performance of an unbelievable year on collegiate sports' biggest stage.
Racing in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Brunnette finished fourth just 0.12 seconds shy of a top-three performance. He sat near the back of the pack until the middle stages of the race. With three laps remaining he moved into 11th, then cut to the inside to climb into seventh. During the final lap he made one last push to reach the top four, finishing in 9:14.23.
John Ostler, Brunnette's coach for all three sports, naturally praised his maturity. "Very few of even the best racers can marry the discipline it takes to go out at the back of the pack early on, to the aggressiveness to attack and make passes in the painful middle and late stages of the 3,000 steeple," he said.
It was the cherry on top of an amazing spring season for Brunnette. He finished no lower than second in any of his entries into the 3000 meter steeplechase, including a school and LEC record at the LEC Championships to claim the title. He capped off his junior year by completing the sweep of the LEC's major running awards, being named the LEC Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year. He also entered the 5000 meter run twice in the spring, finishing first on both occasions, which included a New England title during the DIII New England Championship. He was named All-New England in both the steeplechase and 5000 meters.
"Sam's year has been historic," said Ostler. "He has cemented his status as one of the best athletes in the country. It's astonishing to think how prepared he needed to be over such a long time and seize the fleeting opportunities when they were presented."
To most athletes being called elite is an incredible compliment, but after Brunnette's repeated excellence in 2017-18, elite sure doesn't seem like a strong enough word.
PSU Athletics Top Ten Moments of 2017-18
No. 1 – Brunnette accomplishes an All-America trifecta
No. 10 – Panther Park renamed Parish Field
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