Needham senior Kyler McNatt is one of the state’s best in attacking distances and cross-country trails in the region.
But at home, he may not be the best runner in the family.
His parents, Terry and Sue, met in high school in Wisconsin, where they both were runners. They went on to run at separate running powers, with Sue competing for Northwestern and Terry traveling to the east coast to MIT. They both continued running after college, competing in road races, trail races, and even marathons. Terry has been a mainstay in the Massachusetts road running scene, and last Monday ran his 12th Boston Marathon, finishing in 3:10:41.
For Kyler, competitive running may seem like an inevitability given his roots, but endurance is also a family trait. One sister, Lucy, swam for Needham, and another, Carson, solo biked across the country from the Pacific coast back home to Massachusetts.
However, Sue and Terry wanted to make sure their kids didn’t specialize too early. Growing up, Kyler played soccer, baseball, and skied along with cross-country starting in middle school. Sue, who works as a physical therapist and an assistant coach for Needham girls’ cross-country, knows the importance of not pushing kids to specialize in the sport of running too quickly.
“The kids who get into it too soon often get injured, or just never reach their potential,” Sue said. “Making sure Kyler and our other kids played other sports was important for us.”
Kyler’s freshman year at Needham was the first he made running his main athletic focus. That year he ran a personal best of 17:02 in the 5K, a high bar to set as a newcomer to high school cross-country. He battled injuries his sophomore year, but still managed to drop almost another minute off his time, running a 16:05 PR. The injuries were unfortunate, but Needham coach Chris Van Cott knew they were also a result of Kyler’s persistent work ethic.
“It wasn’t because he was doing anything wrong,” Van Cott said. “It was because he was exceedingly motivated, exceedingly driven, and occasionally hard to hold back . . . he really wants to be good.”
Despite greatly altered competition during his junior year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kyler proved he was among the elite in the state. He placed sixth at the Kelley Invitational in 16:09, and eighth at the MSTCA Cup in 16:14, two of the only three large invitationals held in 2020. He experienced continued success into the track season, qualifying for New Balance Nationals in the 5K, running a personal-best 15:10 at the event and placing 20th.
His ability to produce elite performances, even amid the pandemic, garnered the attention of several NCAA Division 1 programs, including the University of Michigan. Following a long recruiting process, he made his commitment to continue learning and competing in Ann Arbor, running in the Big Ten just as his mom did at Northwestern.
“When I visited Michigan I saw how great their program was,” Kyler said. “How welcoming the team was and how dedicated the coach was, that is what sold it for me.”
Academically, Kyler enjoys physics, and is looking to study either aerospace or mechanical engineering at Michigan.
Although already locked in to attend one of the most prestigious public universities in the country, Kyler is still very much focused on what he has left to accomplish in his high school career. This season he has already broken 16 minutes in the 5K and shattered his PR, running 15:22 at the 2021 Battle of the Border. It is all a build up to championship season though. His goal is clear: win the All-State championship in Wrentham. He also is looking to compete beyond Massachusetts, registering for the Eastbay Northeast Regional Meet at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Kyler also is hoping to follow in his mother’s footsteps qualifying for Nationals.
From a coach’s point of view but moreso a mother’s perspective, Sue believes strongly that Kyler can accomplish his goals, and is continually impressed by what he has done to get to this point.
“When he sets a goal he works to achieve it,” Sue said. “He is really smart about his training, and he makes sure he does everything right . . . it is a lot of fun to watch him race.”
On the trails
▪ Oliver Ames girls’ coach Allison Cleary said her program’s foundation involves five core values: integrity, commitment, hard work, sacrifice and perseverance.
As exemplified by a 5-0 record in the Hockomock League and a third-place finish at last Saturday’s Twilight Invitational, this year’s squad is taking those themes to heart.
“One thing that we really emphasize as coaches is, that not just the top seven who are going to be running at divisionals [will] help us achieve that goal,” she said. “It’s every single member of the team. And when one member’s focused, that translates to another person.”
The Tigers are led by sophomore Katie Sobieraj, who spearheaded her team with a fifth-place finish in the Large Schools meet (19:05.5 5K). Cleary remembers when Sobieraj blew everyone away in her first meet as a freshman; the coaches initially mistook her for one of their senior captains. This season, Sobieraj is raising the bar.
“Sometimes you see girls have a really great freshman year [and] then they struggle to achieve that in their future seasons,” Cleary said. “But she’s taking off and coming out of her shell, and I think being more confident in knowing that she belongs with the top group up there.”
▪ The MSTCA released its second poll of the season. St. John’s Prep was the lone school to maintain its No. 1 spot; the Eagles are followed by Catholic Conference rivals BC High and Catholic Memorial in the D1 boys’ rankings. Martha’s Vineyard (D2 boys) and Parker Charter (D3 boys) each moved up from second.
For the girls, Bishop Feehan swiped the top billing in D1 from Marshfield, and Weymouth moved up to third after winning the Twilight Invitational Large Schools meet. Holliston dominated the Small Schools race, reflecting in its jump from third to first in D2. Lunenburg overtook Weston for No. 1 in D3.
▪The Tri-Valley League is running its championship meet Saturday at Coakley Middle School in Norwood. Franklin Park will be the site for the Catholic Conference championship meet Saturday.
Meets to Watch
▪ Thursday, Dual County championship meet (Franklin Park, 2 p.m.) ― Concord-Carlisle is the frontrunner in the boys’ race, but Westford Academy and Newton South will be in the running. Chris Gould (Cambridge) ran 16 minutes flat at the Twilight Invitational; C-C’s Harrison Dow was at 16:25 in the same race; Westford’s Anthony Chiapetta ran a 16:11 at the Frank Kelley Invitational.
▪ Saturday (Oct. 30), Bay State Conference championship meet (Wrentham Development Center, 11 a.m.) — On the girls’ side, depth is the story. Five BSC teams reside in the top 10 of the MSTCA poll. For the boys, there should be a great battle for first between two sub 16-minute 5K runners, Sam Burgess (Framingham) and Kyler McNatt (Needham).
▪ Saturday (Oct. 30), Merrimack Valley Conference championship meet (Tewksbury, 10 a.m.) ― Miana Caraballo (Methuen), Molly Kiley (Andover), Leyla Kvaternik (North Andover) and Finleigh Simonds (Haverhill) are among the state’s best female runners.
Correspondent Ethan Fuller contributed to this story.
Oliver Glass can be reached at email@example.com.