Cross country is arguably the least publicized sport at Seton Hall but also among the most difficult because of its grueling schedule. While meets take place with little fanfare, long training runs and the need to stay in top physical condition in addition, to keeping up with homework and classes puts cross country’s difficulty on par with any other Seton Hall sport.
For senior cross-country runner Kassi Yocco, this difficulty was intensified by a summer internship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, during which she had to get early in the morning and work 12-hour shifts. Additionally, as a nursing major, most of Yocco’s classes take place at Seton Hall’s IHS Nutley campus, relatively local but a shift from the convenience of having class in South Orange that makes the already difficult daily life of a student-athlete harder.
This adversity has fueled Yocco’s rise to the top of the Pirates’ cross-country leaderboard. Kassi, a native of Bethlehem, P.A., consistently finished among the top-five Pirates at most meets in 2018. She ended last season with excellent times when it mattered most, finishing second among Pirates at the NCAA Regionals with a time of 23:49 and third on the team and sixth overall at the ECAC Championship.
In 2019, Yocco has paced Seton Hall twice – at the Salisbury Invitational on Aug. 31 and most recently at the Henry Mercer Invitational in Holmdel on Sept. 21. Yocco finished the 6K run in Salisbury in 22:33.22, narrowly beating Emma Newgarden and Emily Hernandez, frequent Pirate pacers from 2018. At the Henry Mercer, Yocco led the Pirates with a time of 19:29.70 in a 5K and she finished second at the teams’ two other events, the Wolfie Invitational at Stony Brook and the NYIT Invitational.
“I’ve worked really hard this whole summer,” Yocco said. “I would have to get up at 4:30 in the morning, work a 12-hour shift, and still run and do all the training.
“I’ve always worked hard but I think it’s finally showing because of the mindset of I didn’t wake up at 4:30 for nothing so I wanted to give it everything during training. I didn’t want to leave anything out there.”
As an underclassman, Yocco says she was influenced by older runners on the team, specifically Christiana Rutkowski, who graduated in 2018.
“Christiana definitely had a huge impact,” Yocco said. “She was a great leader and showed me what it means to be a great leader and was super positive and worked really hard.”
This season, Yocco has followed in Rutkowski’s footsteps and emerged as a team leader, starting a new tradition of each team member writing personal goals and taping them to their locker as a reminder of the incentive to getting up at 6 a.m. for practice, imbuing them with the desire to improve before she graduates.
“It’s really bittersweet,” Yocco said. “This year I don’t want to leave any regrets. I just want to give it everything I have on the course, practicing, lifting.”
Matthew Collins can be reached at email@example.com.