ORONO, Maine — Corey Conner’s last race for the University of Maine came during the NCAA Division I indoor championships in March 2011, when she earned All-America second-team honors.
The distance specialist returns to action Saturday when the Black Bears host a meet against the University of New Hampshire and Bates College of Lewiston at the Beckett Family Track and Field Complex. The event starts at 11 a.m.
Conner, a senior from Townsend, Mass., redshirted during the 2011 spring track and cross country seasons, and again during the recently completed winter campaign.
She had arrived at UMaine having run mostly the mile and the 800. At the suggestion of coach Mark Lech, Conner has spent the last year trying to transform herself into more of a 5,000-meter runner.
“This whole past year I’ve just been putting the hammer down on mileage, trying to get my body adjusted to running a lot of miles,” said the nursing major, who was the 2011 recipient of the Dean Smith Award presented to UMaine’s top two student-athletes, male and female.
Conner admitted it was challenging to be out of competition for an entire year and concentrate on training.
“I found it really difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone and not be able to compete with them and run for Maine,” Conner said. “But now that I’m finally going to be getting back to it, I think it was a good idea and I’m glad I did it.”
Conner expects to be much stronger in handling the 5K (3.1-mile) distance. Now she needs to determine how fast she can be.
Her approach will be to achieve gradual improvement with the focus on reaching postseason competition.
“Hopefully toward the end of the season I can run some fast times and qualify for that [NCAA] regional meet,” said Conner, who would then be shooting for a spot in the nationals.
Lech said Conner is capable of contributing in a handful of races, but will be groomed for an elite event this summer.
“Anything from the 1,500 up through the 5,000 — actually even the 800, too — I could put her in and she’s going to be an impact player,” Lech said.
“The goal that we talked about is hopefully making the Olympic Trials outdoors, that’s kind of what we’re shooting for,” he said. “Where I use her this springtime is going to be predicated on what the best schedule is to do that.”
Conner is cautiously optimistic about being able to develop herself into a legitimate 5K runner.
“It’s a longshot and a really high goal to reach for, but it’s definitely a goal that I’m reaching for this season,” she said. “I know that I have to drop my time by a lot and I really need to improve, but I think that it’s doable.”
Saturday’s home meet is one of two this season for UMaine. The Black Bears also will host the America East championships May 5-6 at Alfond Stadium.
“It’s exciting,” Conner said. “We don’t have too many of those, so it’s even better that we get to run out there and wear the Maine uniform in front of the home crowd.”
In the meantime, the Bears are prepared for the chilly conditions forecast for Saturday’s meet.
“We’ve had all our workouts outside, even on very windy days or days that are freezing cold,” Conner said. “We’re definitely going to be used to the wind and cold weather.”
UMaine teams low in AE polls
UMaine did not receive much notoriety during the America East outdoor track preseason coaches polls announced earlier this week.
The Black Bear men were picked to finish sixth, while the women were tabbed seventh.
The men’s team includes senior jumper Trevor England of Auburn, sophomore thrower Wilson Adams of Barrington, R.I., and school heptathlon record holder John Bergstrom, a junior from Upton, Mass.
Joining Conner among the women’s catalysts are senior sprinter Jillian O’Brien of Buffalo, N.Y., senior distance runner Jennifer Lucy of Bangor and senior jumper Katherine McGeoghan of Feeding Hills, Mass.
Versatile senior Jesse Labreck of Oakland, who most recently won the pentathlon at the ECAC indoor meet, is redshirting this spring.
“We’re sitting Jesse Labreck out for the springtime to give her an extra shot, an extra year, to get under her belt to do well in multi events next year,” Lech said. “We think she can get to higher heights there.”