MUNSTER | No matter where she goes to college, Emily McNicholas is majoring in history.
The Munster senior cross country runner is already making archival discoveries.
The recent rearrangement of locker rooms for girls at Munster cost the cross country team its former habitat. The team’s posters, the pictures, the slogans — all the wall adornments — were lost in the shuffle as equipment for volleyball and basketball and other sports migrated to adapt to the growing numbers in other team sports.
The cross country team had a “nature locker” for leaves and corn husks and other mementos from long runs in the woods or meets at more rural locales. It, too, is gone.
Just this week, McNicholas entered a room designated for showers that has morphed into a storage locker within unused showers. Beneath a cheerleading poster, a little worse for wear but stacked and ready to be re-posted, sat the familiar pictures and quotes, such as the extended “run for her” quote that had adorned T-shirts in the past at Munster.
This year the team’s T-shirt says, “Our roots run deep” and features a tree on the front. The trunk and roots of the tree contain names of top runners from coach Michelle Duffy’s eight-year tenure, while the leaves hold the names of this year’s runners.
McNicholas, one of five seniors and the best and most decorated among them, is the lifeline from the past to the present.
It was only fitting that she discovered the old team photos, etc., after practice one day.
The fact that McNicholas was digging for relics didn’t surprise anyone.
This girl has no Justin Bieber pictures in her locker or One Direction folders. She doesn’t have a single mp3 of any such artists in her iPhone or iPod.
“That’s a good way to describe me, an old soul,” McNicholas said after Munster’s assistant coaches suggested the term.
“I listen to WXRT, a station that plays some new music but is definitely geared toward my parents. I’m able to talk to my dad about a lot of the same music that he likes. I’m into documentaries and other shows that my friends wouldn’t always be gung-ho about.”
R. Kelly and Sum 41 are some of the artists on McNicholas’ pre-race hype mix. She owes much of her training to two older brothers, including the oldest. Michael, 26.
“My family has always influenced me to appreciate the past and enjoy it,” McNicholas said. “I love my iPhone and embrace technology, but I like when I get a hand-written letter sent to me on my birthday, too.”
Humor, dry wit and old references are staples as well for the IATCC Academic All-State selection from last track season.
“She’s one of the most charismatic athletes I’ve ever coached,” Duffy said. “She contrasts that with a great deal of integrity for the sport and an intense focus on academics. She appreciates everything that came before her and will stand out in my mind for her personality for a long time.
“The first time I met her I didn’t know how to perceive her. She was just kind of off the wall, off the cuff. It’s one of the things I’ve learned to love. She’s really evolved from the quirky character she used to be.”
As fall slowly creeps in and the season’s midway point — the New Prairie Invitational, where McNicholas was 43rd in the Class AAA race.
McNicholas already has her name in the roots of Duffy’s program. Duffy has a list called The Dandy Dozen, featuring the best times in the program since the IHSAA adopted the 5K race for girls. McNicholas’ 20:16 from last year’s Gavit Sectional where she was the individual runner-up to Taylor Austin, is seventh on the list.
The prestigious Culver Invitational is today, and next week is mostly just preparation for the Northwest Crossroads Conference Meet. Hobart is a heavy favorite, but the Brickies were last year, too, when Munster won the team portion of the race yet ceded the overall NCC title to regular-season champ Hobart.
“Mentally, I’m in the best state I’ve ever been heading into the postseason,” McNicholas said. “Obviously I want to go out strong and have a successful senior season, but I’m not going to get too bogged down by anything as long as I race well.”