The men and women's cross country teams will head to Annapolis, Md. this weekend to compete in the Navy Salty Dog Invitational on Saturday.
The Spiders have competed in this meet the past two years, and go into the event after having won the seventh Spider Alumni Open Aug. 30. Junior Andrew Benford broke the meet's record in the 5-kilometer race with his time of 15 minutes, 3.20 seconds. The previous record had been set by alumnus Kevin Rhue, who finished the race in 2004 with a time of 15:06.60.
Sophomore Diana Filtz led the women in the two-mile race. Her time of 11:15.00 ranked her as the sixth-fastest runner ever at the Spider Alumni Open.
"I thought it was a good benchmark for the season to see where people are and how they have adjusted to the training," junior Matt Llano said.
Saturday's race will be 8 kilometers for the men and 6 kilometers for the women. The course is solid and challenging with many rolling hills and one short and steep climb, women's head coach Lori Taylor said.
The coaches were still uncertain about which other schools would compete this weekend, but Taylor said Navy had a strong team that would be competitive.
"This year we definitely feel like we are capable of winning that meet," Benford said of the men's team.
Some of the athletes are dealing with injuries that could potentially influence Saturday's competition. Senior Karen Guthrie will most likely be out for the season because of chronic problems with her plantar fascia, the connective tissue that supports the arch of the foot, Taylor said.
Senior Tom Davis is the wildcard for the men, Benford said. Davis suffers from chronic Achilles tendinitis and the team is hoping he will be healthy enough to compete in the Lehigh Paul Short Invitational Oct. 3.
Some of the other runners are suffering from minor running-related injuries, but both teams expressed confidence that the injured runners would be able to recover and be strong by the end of the season. The runners are on the upswing now and training, so if they can continue in that direction the team will be in good shape, Taylor said.
"You have to expect that things are going to happen," she said. "But if you have a good, strong, deep team it shouldn't really matter."
Freshmen Levi Grandt and Tim Smith will miss Saturday's meet to compete in Switzerland at the World Junior Mountain Running Championships on Sept. 14. This international event will feature junior runners from more than 20 countries and this is the second time in three years that Richmond runners will be represented during the event. Benford competed his freshman year when the race was held in Turkey.
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Four athletes are selected from a pool to represent the United States in the championships and it is a tremendous accomplishment for Grandt and Smith to have this opportunity, men's head coach Steve Taylor said. It also gives recognition to the cross country program and the university, Taylor said.
"For someone to do that their freshman year of college is just a great experience that a lot of people don't get to do," Llano said.
"I'm just excited to go," Grandt said. "I've never done a completely uphill 5.2 mile race."
The men should still have five or six runners that can step in this weekend in the absence of Grandt and Smith, Benford said.
The Atlantic-10 Cross Country Championships will be held Nov. 1 in Charlotte, N.C. The Spiders hope to improve on the men's and women's second-place finish last year and come out of this meet as A-10 champions.
"We are setting our sights very high this year," Lori Taylor said.
The women were picked as No. 1 in the pre-season conference polls, and Taylor has been encouraged by where the women currently stand in their training. Filtz's finish in the Alumni Open displayed her improvements from last season, Taylor said. The performances of Emma Berry, Carter Norbo and Andi Defonce have also impressed their coach early in the season.
Sophomore Nicol Traynor and junior Amy Van Alstine are also strong and consistent runners for the women, Filtz said.
"I think that if we can get them [the women] healthy they will definitely be very, very hard to beat." Llano said.
With the women they have running in front on the pack, Llano said he could not see any other team in the conference that would challenge them.
Preseason polls listed the men's team as a No. 2 seed. The men's team welcomes back junior Garrett Graham, who was abroad in China for the past year.
"No one really expected us last year to be second," Llano said. "We kind of came out of nowhere. We were a lot closer to winning than anyone really gave us credit for."
The teams also want to have a stronger finish this year in the NCAA Southeast Regional meet on Nov. 15. The women finished ninth in this event last season and the men placed 13th. The Spiders also want to qualify for the NCAA National Championships on Nov. 24, a goal the program has not reached in its recent history.
Contact staff writer Jessie Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org
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