Croatan runners Elliott Kleckner, left, Colten Rodriguez, middle, and Cooper Kleckner all set new 1-mile personal records during a time trial on Saturday, May 9. (Contributed photo)

OCEAN — Three of Croatan’s fastest runners are still getting faster on their own.

Twins Elliott Kleckner and Cooper Kleckner and Colten Rodriguez, all sophomores, set personal records in the 1-mile during an organized time trial Saturday, May 9, the same day that would have been the 2A east regional.

Elliott Kleckner led the way with a time of 4 minutes, 26 seconds, Cooper Kleckner ran the distance in 4:28 and Rodriguez in 4:37.

The novel coronavirus caused the spring sports season to be canceled, foregoing the regional and state championship meets that would have surely seen some serious hardware gathered by the Cougars. It has also left student-athletes to seek out their own resources and rely on each other, as coaches are not allowed to instruct athletes during the sports suspension.

“It has been hard, but quarantine has also offered some new opportunities,” Cooper Kleckner said. “We’ve branched out and we’ve been forced to try new things, but it has made us better. We’ve done some stuff online, and it has really helped me improve. I don’t think I could have gone that fast without some help.”

The three friends and training partners were three of the fastest distance runners for the Croatan boys cross country and track and field teams all year. In the time away from the school facilities and organized activities, the trio have been utilizing other locales to stay sharp.

“We’ve been going to a lot of different places, a lot of open trails near Croatan and around the area,” Elliott Kleckner said. “We’ve been going to Fort Macon since it reopened. We’re hoping there are some summer competitions we can look into, but if not, we’ll continue with these time trials and keep working on getting faster. We’re hoping there is still a fall season to work towards.”

Rodriguez noted the quarantine’s effect on his personal health and overall speed.

“I feel like I’ve found a lot of balance with my fitness,” he said. “This quarantine forces you to find a routine. I’ve been sleeping better and have seen improvement in my running.”

The three Cougars were all set to bring home hardware this spring with a 1,600-meter team capable of doing big things. The quartet, which includes junior Thomas McCabe, clocked a time of 3:34 during a meet against Lejeune on March 12, a time that still ranks best in the 2A classification for the stunted season. Elliott Kleckner’s time of 9:36 in the 3,200-meter in that same event also ranks first in the 2A eastern region.

The three runners, in addition to McCabe, were instrumental in helping Croatan finish second in the spring track and field state championship last year. This year would have been a transition year with top finishers Brendan Hodge, Noah Bibus and Nathan Waltrip having graduated in 2019, but aspirations were still high.

“It was pretty sad, but we’re just trying to make the most of it and come into cross country season as strong as possible,” Rodriguez said. “We’re lucky that a lot of us get to come back and run again next year. We’d like to bring a state title back in the fall (for cross country). Then we’ll just throw it all out there for track and see what happens.”

In fall 2019, the Cougars placed third in the state in cross country, and this winter, they placed fifth in indoor track and field.

The group is already working toward the upcoming cross country season in the fall. Elliott Kleckner also recently put his 5K speed to the test, clocking a blazing time of 15:31. The sophomore shaved 5 seconds off his PR, which was good enough for third in the 2A state championships last year. His most recent time was also good for 14th in the country for his age, per the results of NC Mile Split’s Virtual Classic, open to filmed entries between April 6 and May 31.

The Kleckners and Rodriguez, along with the rest of their teammates, have been working hard this spring to continue improving, something made easier by all three posting top results.

“It’s nice to have some friends and some people you can count on to be around the same speed as you,” Rodriguez said.

Cooper Kleckner added, “When we’re running, even easy days can turn into hard days really quick. We are always pushing each other to go faster. Sometimes it’s beneficial and sometimes it’s not, but it’s all in good fun.”

Like all student-athletes, the quarantine period has been difficult for the twins, but they have a rare partner in misery, both brothers and both missing out on the same season.

“It’s nice to have a brother who is going through the same exact thing you are,” Elliott Kleckner said.

Elliott Kleckner had a special start to his sophomore year with a record time of 17:48 at the Elliott Coues Nature Trail in Atlantic Beach, shattering the old record of 18:16 held by West Carteret’s Frank Rushok. In the summer leading up to this school year, he proved he was one of the best freshman distance runners in the country with a ninth-place finish in the freshman 2-mile at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. He clocked a time of 9:47.71.

The Kleckner twins and Rodriguez will be joined by freshman Caleb Jordan going forward as the quartet look to continue Croatan’s storied running success of the last several years.

“We’re hoping to continue Croatan’s legacy,” Elliott Kleckner said. “I’ve always liked the competition the most, going head to head with other people and continuing to get better and better. I can still do that with these guys even though the season ended.”

The Kleckners’ mother, Bobbi, has been there to see the progression, helping to video the timed trials as her children pursue a worthy at-home sport.

“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “I’m really grateful this was a sport they could continue doing during this time. I’m sure it’s difficult to engage in some of the other sports, but you can always go out and run. Elliot doesn’t often have feet in front of him to make him run faster, so having these time trials has been really helpful for him. We’ve really enjoyed watching them progress, pushing themselves and pushing each other.”

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