Turning hatred to passion, Stephens finds his calling

Written By Robert Berger, Co-Sports Editor

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Photo by Robert Berger
Junior Xavier Stephens competes at Schenley Park in the Carnegie Mellon Invitational during this past cross country season. Stephens is about to enter his third outdoor season as a Pioneer and is hopeful of another championship.

In the winter of 2014 during what was his sophomore year, Xavier Stephens was cut from the Albert Gallatin High School basketball team. Since then, Stephens hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s different than any other sport,” Stephens said. “You can’t get with a friend and play 1-on-1 baseball, but with basketball you can pretty much play anywhere.”

Now a junior here at Point Park, the middle distance captain of the men’s track and field team and has earned himself a number of accolades on the track as well as on the trail as a member of the cross country team.

These accolades include being named an indoor track and field All-American runner, winning five individual conference championships, two team conference championships and appearing at two national championship meets.

However, years before the numerous awards were won, Stephens had an underwhelming freshman season on the basketball court which lead to him being cut the following year.

“That was really the turning point where I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to focus just on running from here on out,” Stephens said.

While Stephens began running competitively during his seventh grade year, he racked up his first career highlight on the track his senior year of high school by competing in the state championship in the 800 meter event.

It was during this season when Kelly Parsley, former head coach of the Point Park track and field team reached out to Stephens and convinced him to represent the Pioneers for the next four years.

“I actually verbally committed to California University before I even talked to Point Park,” Stephens said. “It was the city as a campus and the scholarship money that really made me change my mind.”

Like a number of collegiate runners, Stephens competes on the cross country team in addition to track and field. He picked up this sport during his senior year of high school and admits that his relationship with it hasn’t always been the best.

“I was really bad that year and I hated it,” Stephens said. “I think I just wasn’t ready for it because I wasn’t used to running anything over a half mile.”

Fast forward three years and Stephens is now a captain for the cross country team as well as a conference champion in the sport. His average distance workout includes him up to 10 miles at a time.

Stephens credits teammates seniors Desmond Marrow and Andre Lowery among others for turning his disdain for cross country into a passion.

“I didn’t want to run my freshman cross country season because I wasn’t good, so coach told me to talk to Desmond since he runs the same track events as me,” Stephens said. “Because of that I became really close to him and worked with him.”

Marrow recalled Stephens was shy when starting college but says he has since seen him become a leader and go from a “great runner to a fantastic runner.”

“At first I told him that cross county was beneficial for you not just physically but mentally because it brings you so much closer to your teammates,” Marrow said. “That preseason, working with him were some of the best times I’ve had, and I have seen him grow into a better athlete.”

Now in his third outdoor season, Stephens has transitioned into a leadership role much like the people he looked up to three years ago.

“His approach to the sport is definitely one of a silent leader who leads by example,” Head Coach Jim Spisak said. “The younger guys see how hard he works as well as how successful he is and they know it’s not a fluke.”

Freshman Dennis McDermott attests to this.

“Xavier has purely motivated me by his work ethic. He does not take days off,” McDermott said. “Along with this, between all the adversity we have faced as a team, he has not said anything about issues and has just kept his head up.”

The work ethic and dedication of Stephens has also proved itself in the classroom as he finished this past semester on dean’s list. Majoring in business management, he hopes to pursue a career in sales, with a dream job of working as a global marketing manager for Nike.

However, with graduation in a year’s time, Stephens is focused on the outdoor season which just got underway this past week. After ending the indoor track and field season as a conference champion, he is hopeful to achieve this status once again.

“This season, I really hope to win the 800 meter and 1500 meter events at conferences,” Stephens said. “Most of all, I really want to be named All-American at the outdoor national championship this year.”

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