Midcoast Athletics

Coach Helen Bonzi discusses remarkable girls’ cross country season ahead of regional championships

Posted:  Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 10:45am

ROCKPORT — The Camden Hills girls cross country team is enjoying quite a remarkable season as the team not only won the Class A state crown, but they also are set to compete in the New England regional championship Saturday, Nov. 11 at Belfast’s Troy Howard Middle School against runners from Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire. 

But what has made this year’s girls cross country team different than past teams? 

“The Camden Hills girls team has had an incredible season this year,” Camden Hills cross country coach Helen Bonzi said. “In the past I believe that we would have had much more success in Class B, but we have been plagued with injury and have had some team mates participate in semester abroad programs. With the growth of the population at CHRHS most of the school’s teams have made the shift to Class A.”

She continued: “This year we had a large group of incoming freshmen girls who made the transition from running middle school distances of 2.2–2.25 miles to the 5K distance [3.1 miles] of high school competition. I was worried because several of the girls came in with historic, chronic injuries. Somehow, probably through all the general athleticism, core work, dynamic stretching, pool running, and well timed rest days, the girls managed to stay healthy throughout the season. We also have a great trainer at CHRHS, Chris Audet, who has helped the girls stay healthy.

“Several attributes of the girls team is that they are extremely close, supportive, competitive, coachable, and genuinely wonderful. They work hard when they are asked to work hard and run easy when they are asked to run easy. This is a key element of success for anyone. All of these things together make this hugely successful. I am so honored to be able to coach them and help them to be successful.” 

Cross Country is a sport that, of course, requires an abundance of conditioning. So what’s Bonzi’s conditioning secret? 

“The early part of our cross country season, the pre-season, is spent running lots of slow distance runs to improve aerobic capacity and strength,” Bonzi said. “We also do a lot of core work, dynamic stretching, and drills to develop general athleticism and to prevent injury. We continue to do this work throughout the season and mix things up to try to keep it interesting and challenging. In the beginning of the competitive season we slowly add in more challenging faster work to stimulate development in the anaerobic and aerobic systems. This progression continues throughout the season, as well. The biggest emphasis throughout the season is on general athleticism, developing the entire athlete, and preventing injury.” 

Bonzi became a competitive runner herself at an early age. 

“I participated in Track and Field in middle and high school, but there was no girls cross country in middle school, high school, or college,” she said. “For other sports, which I participated in, we ran long distance aerobic runs for dry land training. I loved running and continued to run throughout my life.” 

As for what drew Bonzi to be a coach: “I got into Cross Country as an extension of my own distance running. For several years I volunteered as an assistant at CHRHS as a cross country coach and was also asked to be a volunteer assistant with the distance runners on the track team.

I also volunteered at CRMS for a cross country season with Jim Morse, the best coach ever! While I was volunteering as an assistant coach I started taking many coaching education courses and earned many levels of certification through both USA Track and Field (USATF) and US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). I’ve continued to take Masters level classes through the USTFCCCA in Distance, Middle Distance, and Cross Country. It’s fascinating stuff!” 

Bonzi also shared some advice for those who are thinking about becoming runners, whether for cross country, 5K races or just for excerice. 

“I would advise anyone who is getting into running to join a running group or team and learn from an experienced coach or trainer, but also to have a bunch of people to train with,” she stated. “There is so much camaraderie that develops between running partners. It keeps people coming back to run together again and again.”

Reach George Harvey and the sports department at: sports@penbaypilot.com