The path to success for Mercy’s Mackenize Pias all started with a clear mind.
The 2013 cross country season for Pias ended with a 58th place finish at the State Open, capping off an up and down year for the sophomore.
Fast forward a year later and Pias now has a much better outlook on the sport.
Credit that to a renewed focus and attitude heading into each race this fall, which played a major role in her results this season.
The Register Area MVP won the Southern Connecticut Conference Championship, finished runner-up in Class L and produced Top 20 finishes at the State Open and New England Championships.
“Cross country can be a very mental sport but it doesn’t have to be, and Mackenzie figured that out the hard way,” Mercy coach Kathryn Schumann said. “When you take yourself out of the race mentally and doubt yourself before the race even starts it’s a long 20 minutes. This year she always gave herself a chance and believed that she could do it.”
Pias, a junior, approached the off-season as a chance to boost her confidence back up and work on channeling her nerves in a more positive manner. She also logged more miles over the summer working on speed work and hills.
She said longtime head coach John Hastings, who retired last season, was there to offer her encouragement this season as well.
“During the summer and the season I knew I had to work on my mental parts of racing, and that definitely helped me a lot,” Pias said. “The night before each race I went through a visualization process. I also tried my best to really push myself and keep my goals at the front of my mind through all of my races which is something I struggled with last year.”
Pias said her confidence grew throughout the season as she improved and did better in each race than she thought she could.
It was on Oct. 11 at the Wickham Park Invitational when Pias placed eighth in a time of 19:28 that really opened her eyes to what she could accomplish heading into the postseason.
At the SCC Championships she set a course-record in a time of 18:32 and helped her team win its second straight SCC title.
“By the time SCCs came around, I knew I had a chance of winning, but also knew it would be really tough going against Danae (Rivers),” Pias said.
“I couldn’t believe I won afterwards especially with such good competition. The entire season seemed to be a surprise and not really what I expected.”
At the Class L state meet, she finished second and guided the Tigers to a close-second place finish, just two points from champion Darien.
At the State Open she ran a season-best 19:05 on the Wickham Park course to help the Tigers place fourth and advance to the New Englands Championships, a first for the program in 20 years. Pias’ time was almost two minutes faster than she ran in 2013.
At New Englands, she captured 14th place (19:05) and was the fourth girl from Connecticut to cross the finish line.
Despite the fact the confidence was there, winning and placing so well was still a pleasant and welcomed surprise.
“As a coach you can’t ask for much more,” Schumann said. “She still has a lot more she wants to accomplish, and teammates and Mackenzie all know that she can get it done one workout at a time. The best part of coaching her was the few times she said to herself and her teammates, ‘I can’t believe we/I just did that.’”
Pias said she’s looking forward to the indoor track season and lowering her times in the 1,600 and 3,200.
“I feel really good going into indoor,” she said. “Last year wasn’t very good for me in track either, and I’m really excited to see what I can do.”