Jake Velazquez and Scott Rathbun

At left, UMass-Lowell freshman Jake Velazquez holds his America East Rookie of the Year award Friday at the conference championship race in New Jersey. At right, Indiana Wesleyan University junior Scott Rathbun competes at the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships over the weekend.

It was a successful weekend for Keene High grads Jake Velazquez and Scott Rathbun, who each competed at their respective colleges’ conference tournaments.

Velazquez, a freshman cross country runner at UMass-Lowell, finished 17th in the conference race Friday in Galloway, NJ, with a time of 25:35.5. His finish in the race, combined with his success all season, earned the former Blackbird cross country star the America East Rookie of the Year award.

This year’s cross country season was delayed from the fall because of the COVID pandemic.

“[Velazquez] didn’t have a whole lot of time to ramp back up into racing form, so, to have done as well as he did, is a tribute to his focus,” said Keene High cross country coach David Goldsmith, who coached Velazquez at Keene. “He was always that way — extremely focused. To sustain it over this whole pandemic thing, and early freshman year, online stuff, that’s really a tribute to his character.”

Both the UMass-Lowell men’s and women’s teams won the conference. The top three runners in the men’s race were from UMass-Lowell. Six finished in the top-10. Velazquez finished seventh on the team in his first conference race.

“His future is very bright,” Goldsmith said. “I know he sees opportunity, and when he sees opportunity, he certainly takes advantage of it. I think he’s just going to continue to grow and be successful.”

Scott Rathbun, a junior pole vaulter at Indiana Wesleyan University also saw success in his conference tournament, finishing third with a vault of 16-feet-7-inches at the NAIA Indoor Track and Field competition.

Rathbun vaulted the same height as the second-place finisher, Goldsmith said, but because of tiebreakers, he finished third.

Rathbun also finished in third place in last year’s conference tournament.

“He’s just a tick away from a national championship,” said Goldsmith, who also coached Rathbun at Keene. “And if there’s anything that would motivate Scott to do whatever little bit he needs to do more to get that spot, you can be sure that he’s the type of guy that will go and get it.”

Goldsmith said it was no surprise to see his two former athletes find success at the next level.

“I really felt that [Velazquez] was probably going to sustain the success,” Goldsmith said. “He’s one of those unique individuals.”

“Much like Jake, I didn’t have any question that Scott was on a success pattern,” Goldsmith added. “Just too hard of a worker. He knew what he wanted, and he knew how to get it.”

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.