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Boys’ Cross Country Athlete of the Season: Coe-Brown’s Luke Tkaczyk

  • The Coe-Brown cross country team takes off to start the Division II championship race on Oct. 26. RICH MIYARA

  • Coe-Brown junior Luke Tkaczyk crosses the finish line at Derryfield Park in Manchester to claim the Division II individual title on Oct. 26. Coe-Brown also defended its team title that day, and a week later the Bears won the Meet of Champions in historic fashion. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Coe-Brown junior Luke Tkaczyk (53) comes down the home stretch of the Black Bear Invitational on Sept. 28 at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. Tkaczyk finished third to lead the Bears to the team title.

  • Coe-Brown’s Luke Tkaczyk (53) competes at the Black Bear Invitational at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy on Sept. 28.

Monitor staff
Published: 11/28/2019 7:14:21 PM

The Coe-Brown cross country program has been a part of Luke Tkaczyk’s life for as long as he can remember. There’s even a picture of him as a toddler with his father, Coe-Brown coach Brent Tkaczyk, on the stage at Derryfield Park receiving a championship plaque with the rest of the Bears.

Now a junior, Tkaczyk is up on stage winning plaques of his own.

Tkaczyk won the Division II individual title, led the Bears to a repeat D-II team title, helped Coe-Brown receive state, regional, and even national recognition and is the Monitor Boys’ Cross Country Athlete of the Season.

After winning three straight championships from 2015-17, Coe-Brown graduated nearly all of its varsity runners. So when Tkaczyk and his friends joined the program in the fall of 2017, the coaching staff expected a bit of a learning curve. Instead, the young Bears finished second in D-II to veteran-laden Oyster River by 10 points (Tkaczyk finished seventh in 2017) and won it all in 2018 (Tkaczyk came in fourth).

With six of the seven members of that 2018 varsity team returning, Tkaczyk, his coaches and his teammates set their sights even higher than simply defending their D-II title.

“This summer when we were all running together as a boys’ team, there were 10-15 guys getting together to run,” Tkaczyk said. “About midway through the season, that’s when we realized we had a pretty good shot to be in contention (for a New England title).”

Tkaczyk and his teammates – fellow juniors Wyatt Mackey, Logan Mihelich, Carter Sylvester and Patrick Hill, senior Dawson Dubois and freshman Aidan Cox – cruised to an undefeated regular season.

The Bears picked up wins at prestigious events against some of the best in New England. They finished first at the Wickham Park Invitational in Manchester, Conn., the Manchester Invitational Large School race (despite being Small School by enrollment) at Derryfield Park in Manchester and their own Coe-Brown Black Bear Invitational.

Consistently a top finisher in major events, Tkaczyk took third at the Black Bear Invite, fifth at Wickham Park, seventh at the Manchester Invite and ran a personal-record 5K of 15:36 at the Battle of the Border, finishing second to his teammate Dubois.

Racing for a deep and balanced team, Tkaczyk was not always the team’s top runner, but he took the lead at the D-II state meet, clocking a 16:06 – a career-best for the Derryfield Park course.

“(The first mile) was really slow compared to the other races,” Tkaczyk, “but our second and third miles were insanely fast so that was pretty cool to do. That’s the opposite style of what I usually do. I’ve never really had a great kick, so I’ve had to go (fast) from the beginning. This year, I’ve developed a kick.”

Cox and Dubois crossed the line after Tkaczyk for a 1-2-3 Coe-Brown finish and all seven Bears were in the top 11 for an overwhelming victory. One week later, Coe-Brown set the Meet of Champions record for the best top-five average time in 15:44 (Tkaczyk finished 18th in 15:53).

The New England meet was next, and despite hopes of a title, the Bears finished fourth, their first defeat of the season. Despite that somewhat disappointing team result at New Englands, Coe-Brown never lost to a New Hampshire team, was the No. 1 ranked team in the New Hampshire Cross Country rankings all season and reached as high as No. 25 in the DyeStat national high school rankings.

The core of the Coe-Brown philosophy comes down to making good decisions, both on and off the course, and nobody symbolizes that better, or more consistently, than Tkaczyk.

“Luke has been the glue,” said Tim Cox, who has co-coached alongside Tkaczyk’s father Brent for the past 20 years. “He sets the tone for the team. When he is confident, the team is confident, and he is always confident. He is also the constant. He is the consistent positive presence at the front of every workout, run, race, and (team) activity.”

Tkaczyk’s confidence shows on the cross country course.

“What comes to mind first is that Luke puts his team and training first throughout each day,” Brent Tkaczyk said. “He is invested in all of his teammates and he loves being part of this team. Luke is a ferocious competitor with a heart of gold.”

Coe-Brown cross country has been a part of Tkaczyk’s entire life, but this year had an especially personal touch.

Tim Cox and Brent Tkaczyk’s wives are cousins, and Luke’s cousin, freshman Aidan Cox, was also an integral member of the squad.

“I will say, the coaching I was familiar with that since I’ve had that basically my whole life,” Luke said. “But Aidan and I were basically side-by-side every race this season.”

The family ties don’t end there. Luke’s mother, Amy Tkaczyk, coaches the New Hampshire Thunder running club and the Northwood Elementary School cross country team. Luke’s younger brother, freshman Tyler Tkaczyk, is a varsity-caliber talent and his cousin, junior Addison Cox, is the top runner on the Coe-Brown girls’ team.

It’s already been a long, competitive season for all those Tkaczyk and Cox runners and coaches and the rest of the Bears, but it’s still not over. The team will compete as Black Bear XC in the Nike Northeast Regionals at Bowdoin Park in N.Y. on Saturday. The top two teams advance to Nike Nationals

Such a long season could turn into a drag, but not if you love the sport and your team.

“I hold myself to a pretty high standard,” Tkaczyk said, “but having so many guys to train with and be friends with at school, that’s a pretty cool thing to have.”

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