Nikki Rosee Camisha McKenzie photo

Camisha McKenzie and Nikki Rosee on the first day of preseason.

Nikki Rosee started last spring as an assistant coach for the Edgemont track and field team. Following the sudden retirement of 30-year veteran J.C. Periac on the first day of preseason in March, Rosee soon found herself as Periac’s replacement as the spring girls head coach and this fall she’s taken over Periac’s role as head coach of the cross-country team.

Rosee is not the only familiar face from the spring as Camisha McKenzie, who was hired after the spring started as an assistant coach, has taken the same role for cross-country.

Edgemont considers Rosee and McKenzie the perfect pair — Rosee is an accomplished distance runner, while McKenzie has expertise in sprinting and field events.

“They’re a great duo because Camisha is really about speed and she was doing sprinting during spring track, so I think she’ll give good, hard speed workouts and lessons, and Nikki’s all about long distance, so it will be a good balance between the two,” junior Nora Butler said.

Athletic director Anthony DeRosa didn’t hesitate in elevating Rosee to both head coaching positions. DeRosa called Rosee transitioning from spring to fall “a natural thing.”

“We thrust her into the leadership role when J.C. abruptly retired,” DeRosa said. “I thought she did a very nice job for us. Coming into a new school trying to get your bearings and then being thrust into that role that you might not have been mentally prepared for, I think she did a nice job.”

Rosee’s previous high school coaching experience came last winter at Solomon Schechter. “I know how to run, I know how to coach, so it wasn’t that crazy,” Rosee said. “It was a little different because my last team was much smaller. It was an adjustment, but we made it work.”

Rosee is a local product, having graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1994 (her maiden name is Matlick). Though she did not compete as a runner in high school or college — she was on the SHS ski team coached by Mike Menna — she had been running since elementary school and into college. After college she competed in half-marathons and over the last few years she transitioned to full marathons.

Rosee’s goal is to run all six World Marathon Majors. She’s done New York and Chicago, and Berlin will be her third major — fifth overall — in September. She’s already got Boston planned for April, with London and Tokyo left for the future.

“They say when you start running marathons you have a bug,” Rosee said. “I definitely have the bug and it’s like a bucket list thing for me. I found out about the majors and then I time qualified for Boston and I actually just time qualified for New York for the following November. I’ve gotten faster, taken 25 minutes off my time.”

She started out at 3:48 for her first 26.2-mile trek and is down to 3:23.

“I applied to New York the first time and I said if I get in I’ll do it and I got in,” Rosee said. “I had no choice. I’m not a quitter. Once I sign up for something I see it through.”

In addition to coaching at the high school level, Rosee has her USATF certification and has trained private clients. “It’s something I love,” she said. “I’m a huge runner, I’m a marathoner and it’s just something I wanted to share.”

Rosee, a former teacher, taught in the Bronx for three years as a special education teacher and worked in Scarsdale at Greenacres for four years, first as a special ed teacher for one year, then three years as a first grade teacher. She retired after her second child was born. The mother of four — ages 7, 9, 11 and 13 — now works in real estate.

Balancing kids, real estate, running and coaching is a challenge.

“It’s not easy,” Rosee said. “It’s not easy, but I enjoy it. I truly believe you should be doing something you love and I love running, so I decided I should move into that.”

Rosee enjoyed working in the spring with boys’ head coach Steve Rubenstein, and then was excited when McKenzie joined the staff. McKenzie is a teaching assistant at Greenville Elementary School who competed at New Rochelle under coach Andy Capellan, graduating in 2004, and at SUNY Cobleskill.

“I’m coming from a program under Coach Cap,” McKenzie said. “He’s a tough guy, but I feel like me coming over here and them wanting that, and having someone push them and who knows what they’re doing, they were excited to have Nikki and me working under Rubes, who has been a legend here for a while. Putting it all together was really great. The kids were awesome.

“I didn’t know if they’d be able to handle what I can bring. I didn’t want to be overwhelming to them, but they were so warm and loving to what I had to bring to the point where they were like, ‘Coach, I want to take you to states. I want to take you to nationals.’ Whatever I taught them, that experience has them wanting more.”

The impact of having the coaches carry over from spring to fall is already evident. “Camisha and I actually convinced some of the sprinters to join cross-country, even though it’s not their specialty,” Rosee said. “I don’t know if we will necessarily have them compete, but we’re hoping that they begin to realize that if you don’t continue it, you’ll start to lose it. We hope to work with them on endurance. The more endurance you have, the faster you’ll become. And we’ll work on strength and speedwork.”

What the runners of all distances and abilities get out of the season will be up to them, according to Rosee.

“They have to be dedicated,” she said. “They have to put in the work. It’s not something you can do overnight. I’m here to prove that. I’ve been running my entire life and I’m not getting younger, but I’m getting faster. We have some kids every season who are disappointed because they’re not doing their best, but if you’re not going to put in the work you’re not going to do your best.”

Butler sees more mileage for the distances runners, also less repetition and more speed. She’s buying in. “My times have gotten a lot better since then,” Butler said.

Rosee and McKenzie both run with their athletes, so Rosee will take the lead and McKenzie will bring up the rear this season.

“She’s quite fast,” junior Atticus Margulis-Ohnuma said of Rosee. “I think it’s good. It’s a good encouragement to keep going and also it really proves she knows what she’s doing. Having someone there with you is a different experience.”

The cross-country program has been stagnant in recent years in terms of top talent. While the girls have had some good young runners the past few years, the numbers have been low, making team scoring difficult.

“Any time somebody new takes over there is a little bit of new breath that’s breathed into a program,” DeRosa said.

DeRosa also appreciates having coaches who get in the trenches with their athletes. In this case it’s the coaches enduring workouts throughout the course on the high school campus.

“Not every coach is able to do that and I think it gives the coach a lot of credibility when they are able to properly demonstrate techniques to the students,” DeRosa said. “I think that’s important and I think credibility goes a really long way for a coach in engaging the student-athletes.”

Though it has yet to be discussed officially, DeRosa seems open to keeping Rosee and McKenzie in the program year-round.

“In my mind that would be ideal for us after losing a coach who coached all three,” DeRosa said. “You lose a head coach of three programs and depending on what those programs are, you could be looking for three different people, so to have one person fill that role and [who] can fill that role, more importantly, would be great for us.”

Rosee would be amenable to exploring coaching in the winter.

“I haven’t been hired for winter yet, but I would be interested depending on my kids’ schedule,” she said. “I’ve done winter before, just not here. It’s a long season, but I personally like running in the cold better.”

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