DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Foxcroft Academy sophomore Jenna Clukey is taking cross-training to a literal level.
Already a standout on the Ponies’ swimming, softball and soccer teams, Clukey has added a spot on the school’s cross country team to her resume this fall.
And while her first year of competitive distance running has had its highs and lows as the No. 2 seed on coach Graham Pearsall’s squad, she is realizing benefits that also have helped her play a pivotal role on Foxcroft’s girls soccer team, which entered the final week of its regular season battling for a Class B playoff berth after not previously winning a single game since October 2010. The Ponies finished 13th, narrowly missing a playoff berth.
“I’ve always liked to run on my own, and it helps me keep in shape for soccer so I can play longer in games,” said Clukey, the daughter of Jack and Deb Clukey.
Clukey is a second-year starter for coach Chris Wesley’s Foxcroft soccer club, which won three of its last four regular-season matches to finish with a 6-8 record after Monday’s 4-0 loss to Hermon.
“When we beat MDI, who was No. 1 at that point of the season, I saw a lot of girls who didn’t have a lot of confidence feel like, ‘Wow, I can do this,’ and they had never experienced that before,” she said. “For our seniors, who hadn’t won a game until that point, and for our school, we always got the jokes in soccer and now people are starting to respect us.
“It’s just been a great season.”
Clukey said her cross country experience, particularly the additional conditioning provides and the notion of pacing required in a race, has aided her role on the soccer team as a center midfielder.
“At certain points I’ll feel tired and then I’ll think, ‘You have more,’ so I’ll keep going and that’s where cross country helps,” she said. “When you hit that 2½-mile mark in a race I might feel dead but I know I just have that short distance left to go.
“In soccer you look at the clock and see there’s 20 minutes left and you realize you’re down to the last stretch and you just have to give it your all because just like the last part of a race that’s the most important part of the game.”
Because soccer and cross country practices typically run concurrently, Clukey only occasionally participates in cross country’s after-school workouts but she oftens runs on the weekends to catch up with the distance demands of the sport.
She also analyzes her performances at Foxcroft’s cross country meets to determine where she can improve.
“I try to figure it out as I go along,” said Clukey, who has two top-10 finishes in multischool races this fall. “I go over each race and think about what I can do better for the next race.”
Pearsall said Clukey — one of the emerging young pitchers on the Eastern Maine high school softball scene who as a freshman also placed second to Florida State recruit Leila Johnston of Mount Desert Island in the 200 freestyle at the 2015 Class B state swimming championships — contributes to the cross country team in ways that transcend her finishes.
“She brings a different level of competitiveness to the team,” he said. “While she doesn’t practice with us on a regular basis because she’s at soccer practice, you can tell when the gun goes off that she’s there to win.
“Her energy rubs off on the other runners.”
She will run in the North regional cross country championship meet Saturday at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, where the Ponies will compete after a sixth-place finish at last weekend’s Penobscot Valley Conference large-school meet.
“Probably the first 5K she ever ran was the first meet of the season,” said Pearsall. There have been some talks before and after the races, but she’s just slowly learning what a 5K race is like and that it’s a unique thing where only experience can teach you.”