SEEKONK -- There are the living legends of the Seekonk High School cross country and track family — distance runners who went on to gain collegiate, national and international acclaim.
There’s an Olympian like John Gregorek Jr. (Columbia University and the University of Oregon); the Crowley brothers, Billy (Stanford University, the 1986 Massachusetts State champion) and Gary (Stanford University, the 1982 Massachusetts State champion); the Harrisons, Mark (Providence College) and Jimmy (Northeastern University); Heather Grimshaw (Boston College); and Christine Mullen-Gregorek (John’s mom, Georgetown University).
Seekonk High senior Andrew Cabral is the latest to fit into the Warrior running shoes, bidding to earn his niche among the elite that have stepped afoot beyond Arcade Avenue.
“I have had some really strong distance runners in the past,” said Frank Mooney, Seekonk High’s legendary cross country and track coach. “He (Cabral) might not be in the top five, but he is close.”
Cabral ran a record 13:33, shattering Gregorek’s older-than-a-decade record on Seekonk High’s 2.65 mile cross country course once as junior. And he did it again April 25 in the Warriors’ last South Coast Conference meet of the Fall 2 season at 13:41, winning the race by a margin of one minute, 21 seconds.
He has clocked personal best times of 4:24.29 in the mile, 9:32.8 in the two-mile, 9:48.3 in the 3K, 13:37 in the 4K and 15:41 in the 5K.
There is a science to running, the top 20 academically ranked Cabral explained. After all, his career interests are in aerospace engineering. He received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and plans to report there in June.
A former baseball, basketball and soccer player as an adolescent, the 5-foot-11, 140-pound Cabral took an interest in running during his middle school years.
“Those other sports made me more competitive, so when I was a freshman, I was having a lot of fun,” he said.
After an attempt to join the school’s soccer team, Cabral embraced running — riding his bicycle three miles to practice every day, running three to five miles or more, and then bicycling three miles back home — and benefitted from Mooney’s tutelage.
“He (Mooney) did a lot with me mentally, to transition my mindset from a basketball and baseball perspective to a runners’ perspective,” Cabral said. “It was how I should perceive certain events during a workout and races. He was really positive and made me see that I was good at the sport.”
The lone alteration in Cabral’s running form was in lowering his arm motion. “I used to ride my arms high, so I lowered my arms once in a while,” he said.
“I was winning a lot of freshman races, I was having fun with the guys on the team,” Cabral said of sticking with the indoor and outdoor Warrior track programs.
Mooney brought out the playbook of workouts that he incorporated for former Warrior greats.
“I shared some of the old workouts and what the Crowley brothers did, and he tries to copy them,” Mooney said. “He surely has come close a number of times, and he is wearing a mask. If he had the normal setting for racing over the last year, who knows what he would have accomplished.”
The pandemic caused the South Coast Conference, of which Seekonk is a member, to suspend the entire fall sports calendar. During that time, though, Cabral ran in meets sponsored by the Mass. State Track Coaches Association.
“The sad part is that he missed the fall cross country and indoor seasons of his senior year,” Mooney said.
In his first cross country meet after a 16-month absence from competition during the Fall II cross country season this spring, Cabral couldn’t wait to get to the finish line. He posted a 1:21 margin of victory in clocking a first-place time of 14:23, leading the Seekonk High boys’ cross country team to a 21-34 win over Somerset Berkley in a South Coast Conference meet in March.
Prior to the pandemic, during the winter 2019-20 season, winter, Cabral took second place in the 2-mile run at the Division 5 Championship Meet at the Reggie Lewis Center at 9:39.46. That was on the heels of winning SCC Championship Meet titles in both the 1000 (2:41.3) and mile (4:34.78). He says he doesn’t have a favorite distance to run, but that he enjoys track races.
In March 2020, before the pandemic wiped out the spring season, Cabral was recognized by the MIAA as its Male Athlete of the Month. During his junior cross country season, Cabral broke the Warriors’ course record, was named the SCC Runner of the Year and finished fifth at the MIAA All-State Meet, covering the 3.1-mile course at 16:41 in Gardner.
“He is a very hard worker and is always ready to do a strong workout,” Mooney said. “In his freshman and sophomore years, he had some pretty good runners to train with and learn from. When he joined us he was a very shy guy and he trained like that but the guys got him to step it up and he never did workouts shyly again.”
Back in January 2017, as a freshman, Cabral first fast-footed himself into notoriety by winning the Auerbach Freshman-Sophomore Meet 2-mile title in the Small School Division at 10:10.7. “I became the best miler (4:53) on the team, but I was a much better two-miler (9:57) and I finished fourth at the divisional meet,” he said.
A year later, Cabral won the SCC cross country meet title, was second at the Division 4 Meet and seventh at the all-state meet. In addition, he won the Boston Holiday Challenge 2-mile run indoors at 9:42.
“I saw lots of progression in my times that year,” he said, also lowering his 5k time down to 16 minutes. Indoors, I really seemed to hit my stride in the mile and two mile.”
Before long, Cabral was in the lead during cross country meets, the winter and spring meets. Mooney noticed a transition to the next level for Cabral as a junior.
Without a South Coast Conference cross country season last fall, Cabral felt the loneliness that comes with being a long-distance runner. At times, he ran alongside former Warrior Henry Jordan (now at UMass-Amherst) and five female Seekonk High runners for companionship, not competition.
“It was hard getting out to run every day,” Cabral said. “I had to keep going until the meets were back on. I couldn’t get out of shape.”
“He shared with me that it was not fun because he just found it very lonely running the longer workouts alone,” Mooney said, coaxing Cabral onto the roads of Seekonk, talking to him from his car. “I tried to talk to him about other things beside cross country.”
Cabral receives plenty of inspiration from his family, his source of interest in sciences, too, from his dad, Ken Cabral Sr., an electroplater, his mom Susanna, a blood lab technician, and brother Ken Jr., a software engineer.
Without the prospect of an indoor SCC season and all of the accompanying MIAA meets, Cabral found some competition in a calendar of events sponsored by the Mass. State Track Coaches Association, a series of meets held at Highland Park in Attleboro and during the winter at Wheaton College.
“The main difference was that he has had so few opportunities to run with a group of runners with comparable talent,” Mooney said. “At Wheaton, we did not know some of the people or college runners beforehand so creating a race plan was hard on him.”
In 5,000-meter runs during the fall season in the Mass. State Track Coaches Association sponsored meets at Highland Park, Cabral fared well in the three “big” meets against the best of the “all comers” races, the best of all high school divisions in the state — the MSTCA Cup (16:02, first place),the Mooney Invitational (16:05, fourth place) and the Kelley Invitational (16:18, ninth place).
“Some meets I surprised myself, but I wanted to be faster,” Cabral said. “It was better than nothing.”
Cabral worked on lowering his time in the mile to 4:24 and sought to lower his 2-mile time to 9:10, while also taking three Advanced Placement courses to enhance his academic profile.
“He did some very strong workouts, but it was so different running on a flat 200-meter track at Wheaton and wearing a mask,” Mooney added of his indoor work, too. “He is very easy to work with. Once we talk it over, he just does it.”
During the recent Fall 2 season, Seekonk High competed as a cross country team and Cabral won all five races on 2.65- to 3.1-mile courses, most often by margins of a minute or more.
Cabral feels he has won the race against pandemic training.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Cabral said of running without teammates, without meets, running indoor races at Wheaton with a mask, restricting his breathing patterns. “I do miss the big (MIAA divisional and state) meets. It’s not the same as running at the Reggie (Lewis Center) or a state cross country meet in Gardner, but it (fall 2020, winter and spring 2021). But it was something.
“To be mentioned in the same breath as some of those other Seekonk High runners, to beat Gregorek’s record, means a lot to me.”