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Veteran leads Rutgers to strong finish

<p>Senior Jaimin Vekaria led his team to a top-three performance at the Metropolitan Championships, capturing an 11th overall finish. He says&nbsp;he has kicked up the intensity during practices lately in preparation&nbsp;for Big Ten Championships in November.</p>

Senior Jaimin Vekaria led his team to a top-three performance at the Metropolitan Championships, capturing an 11th overall finish. He says he has kicked up the intensity during practices lately in preparation for Big Ten Championships in November.

The worst moment of an athlete’s collegiate career is the first second when it's over.

For those athletes who do not plan on playing their respective sport professionally, that final buzzer, whistle or crossing of the finish line of their senior season is when they are forced to say goodbye to the game they worked extremely hard at and dedicated a countless amount of time to over the years.

While it isn’t easy for an athlete to say goodbye to a sport that has been such a major part of their lives, it makes it a little easier for them deal with if they can finish on a high note.

That’s what senior Jaimin Vekaria is attempting to do as his final season on the Rutgers men’s cross country team comes to a close.

Vekaria, one of two seniors on the Scarlet Knights roster, has been a major factor in the Knights' success in 2015. After not placing in the top three in any meets last season, Rutgers has notched two of them this year. 

With a young roster, the Knights have made strides this season, and Vekaria has been savoring every moment of it.

“It’s been really nice,” Vekaria said. “This is my last cross country season, so I’ve just been kind of enjoying every race I’ve had and kind of savoring the moment as the weeks go by and just really working hard.”

Vekaria has been a key component of Rutgers' success this season. When the Knights took third place at the Metropolitan Championships, he finished 11th overall and second among his teammates. In Rutgers' last meet at the Princeton Invitational, Vekaria finished in the top 50 of a crowded field and ran his season-best time in 25:04.3

Last season, his best time was 25:38, which he also ran at the Princeton Invitational. In his final season of cross country, Vekaria is putting up some of the best times he's posted on the Banks. 

He credits his improvements to the team’s intensified training.

“Workouts have been a lot harder this year and they’ve made me a lot faster,” Vekaria said.

Even though Vekaria is one of three upperclassmen on the roster, he does not take the role of the vocal leader. Instead, the young Knights rely on him to lead them with his performance at meets.

“We’re all very cohesive, we work hard together, we’re always pushing each other, nobody’s really that vocal leader,” said sophomore Luke Wiley. “But he is an important part of the team and we’re hoping that we can all really show up and that he can lead us at Big Ten (Championships) because we need that sort of leadership in that role, so we're looking up to him to step up really big there.”

Rutgers still has three highly competitive meets remaining on their schedule beginning with the Big Ten Championships on Nov. 1, an event where the Knights finished last a season ago. They then go on to compete in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional and the IC4A Championships to finish out the season.

Although they have a lot to be proud of in 2015, Vekaria has stressed to his teammates the importance of closing out the year on high note.

“Well, you’ve definitely seen the intensity go up in his game and what he’s said to us and rightfully so,” sophomore Trent Brinkofski said. “He’s a senior, he’s only got a couple of races left of cross country, only got one more track season to do his thing … He’s only got a little bit of time left so he’s definitely driving home that we need to do well in these workouts over the next couple weeks and try to do the best we can in the Big Ten's so he can go out with a bang and try to have a good finish to his career.”

No matter what happens in the final three meets, when Vekaria crosses the finish for the final time, he will have been happy with what he and his teammates were able to accomplish this season, along with his overall career at Rutgers.

“It’s bittersweet. I’m sad that this is the last (season),” Vekaria said. “But I’m kind of happy also to move on and be with this team as well. It’s been a nice run.”

For more updates on the Rutgers men’s cross country team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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