Coach Kimberly Keenan-Kirkpatrick Joins Women’s Track and Cross Country Programs

On the evening of Jan. 20, 2022, senior Isabella Cunio ran around the hallways of a Hilton in New York City. She was full of breadsticks and fettuccini alfredo, having just enjoyed an Olive Garden dinner.

Cunio’s Track and Field teammates scampered alongside her. On Jan. 21, the women would run at the Armory in their first meet of the season. This run through the Hilton halls thus celebrated the start of their season.

This spring season will occur under the guidance of new Associate Head Cross Country Coach and Assistant Track Coach Kimberly Keenan-Kirkpatrick. Her arrival to Colgate’s running program follows a cross country season of success, camaraderie, and coaching challenges.

Running from early September to late November, the women’s cross country team earned both 11th place at ECAC Championships and 9th place at the Patriot League Finals in the fall of 2021. On an individual level, Sophia Manners placed 15th overall in The Patriot League.

These achievements were made more impressive by the departure of the team’s long-time coach, Luke Burdick, at the beginning of the season. Burdick was replaced by Harlis Meaders, Director of Track and Field and Cross Country, who did not have formal experience coaching cross country. Meaders worked with the women’s captains to best meet the training needs of the students.

Although they ran and trained without the formal guidance of a distance coach, the women maintained a high morale and sense of camaraderie throughout their season. First-year Taylor Mitchell felt quickly embraced by the cross country team. Mitchell began running in childhood and joined her high school’s cross country team sophomore year.

“This team feels more like a family than any other running team or club I have been a part of. The long bus rides, challenging workouts, and all the time we spend in the locker room have made the team very close.”

Cunio, who began running track in middle school, predicts that her track season will serve as an extension of her positive experience on the team over the last three years.

“I have learned how to overcome obstacles and reach goals for myself with my team’s encouragement, and encourage my teammates to grow and reach their goals as well. Track has created a competitive environment that challenges me to become the best version of myself on and off the track.”

The arrival of Coach Kirkpatrick excited both Cunio and Mitchell. They look to her as a source of guidance both for their current track season and the Colgate running program broadly.

“I’m confident that Coach K will help to enhance the team’s culture, training, and results at competitions. I know the whole distance team is very excited to have a leading figure who will help us train to be better runners and athletes,” Mitchell said.

Kirkpatrick brings to Colgate nine years of experience at Seton Hall as Athletic Director and six years of experience as Deputy Director of Athletics at Syracuse University. Kirkpatrick left her directorship at Syracuse University in August of 2021.

In the summer of 2021, Syracuse University swam in controversy. Throughout the 2020-2021 season, 12 womens’ basketball players transferred from Syracuse for undisclosed reasons. Allegations of bullying against womens’ basketball coach Quentin Hillsman went public in June 2020.

Kirkpatrick discussed the change in her career direction with track and cross country athletes upon their first meeting. She has offered to speak individually with students if they are so interested. However, due to a legal agreement with Syracuse University, she may not share many details of her experience.

“I really do not want to discuss anything about Syracuse and their culture except that I am very glad to be a part of a culture that I see as much more positive than the one that I left,” expressed Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick is excited by her change in position from an administrative level to personal coach.

“Now I am able to focus on the one sport I have true passion for and work with these athletes. I feel the years I have worked as an administrator has really allowed me to encapsulate what I saw really good coaches do and incorporate that into my coaching style.

Just as Cunio and her teammates ran through the Hilton together, full on Olive garden, Kirkpatrick has begun enjoying small moments of connection with her team.

“This morning, three of my athletes got up and went for a run with me at 6:30 AM before the van ride back to Hamilton. That shows they want to get better,” Kirkpatrick said.