The University of Richmond's women's cross-country team won the Atlantic 10 Championship, and the men's team took third Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.
The women's team, led by sophomore Nicol Traynor, finished the race with four of its five scoring runners in the top 11 spots. As a result, the team placed four runners on the All-Conference team, and Katie Spratford earned the A-10 Rookie of the Year award after finishing with the fastest time among freshman women. Coach Lori Taylor also received A-10 Coach of the Year honors.
Junior Matt Llano led the men with a second place finish, closely followed by junior teammate Andrew Benford. Llano finished in 24 minutes, 5.2 seconds in the 8-kilometer race, while Benford's time of 24:13.7 earned him fourth. Both Llano and Benford also received All-Conference honors for their performances.
Traynor, who finished third overall for the women, completed the 5K race in 17:48.1. Behind her was junior Amy Van Alstine in fifth place at 18:12.1, Spratford in sixth at 18:15.4 and senior Mary Bertram in 11th at 18:34.1. The fifth runner, sophomore Diana Filtz, came in at 18:49.1, good for 23rd.
"The girls were pretty confident going in, not that we're so much better, but because we worked very hard," Taylor said. "Bottom line -- it was a good team race overall and we did what we needed to do. It was really our best team effort."
Traynor and Van Alstine led the race from the start, setting the pace for the Richmond team, which finished with just over a minute between its first and fifth runners, Traynor said. About halfway through the race, Traynor was passed by the first and second place runners, she said.
"We started out too hard, and then fell back," she said. "We couldn't move as much at the end like we wanted."
Van Alstine also said she and Traynor started too quickly, but was also frustrated when her Achilles tendon began hurting during the last mile.
"I didn't have the race I wanted," she said, "but a couple of girls stepped up and we ran well enough to win it. I'm really happy we won the conference championship, but I was little worried it was too close."
In the women's race, 139 competed from the 14 A-10 schools, but only the first five racers' scores counted. Once the first five runners' scores were added together, despite concerns from Van Alstine and Traynor, the team won with a 19-point margin over second-place University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
The women raced on a 5K course for the championship, even though they usually run on 6K courses. The distance didn't affect them much, but they were unfamiliar with the course, Traynor said. Spratford said the course had been difficult because there had been sharp turns and some steep hills.
"Also some parts were pretty open," she said. "It was nice to see the team ahead so I could focus on closing the gap."
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While Spratford helped the women's team succeed by closing the gap between her and Van Alstine, the men's coach, Steve Taylor, said the gap between the first and fifth men's runners had been a weakness for his team.
Richmond's first two runners finished in the top four, but the remaining three -- sophomore Tim Quinn (25:12.4), junior Jon Wilson (25:12.6) and freshman Levi Grandt (25:17.1) -- placed 35th, 36th and 40th overall.
"Three, four and five -- they had good races," Steve Taylor said. "They were just a little farther back from where we needed to be. Instead of a 70-second split, we were shooting for a 50 second split. I think we could do it."
Despite missing its goal, Taylor said the team's 1-through-5 gap was the shortest it's been all season.
Taylor also said that this year's A-10 Championship was the most competitive that it's been since 1983, when he first was exposed to the conference. The top two teams were well ahead in this year's competition, but the third- through seventh-place teams were separated only by a small margin, he said.
"If we ran it again in two days, we'd get a different result," he said.
The top runners last weekend set records for times posted in the championship race, Taylor said. Llano and Benford finished with the top six or seven times ever run in the conference.
"I couldn't ask for Benford or Llano to do anything different," he said. "They ran a perfect race to do anything to win."
After a rough start, Richmond's front two led the pack for most of the race, along with Adu Dentamo from Charlotte, who finished in first.
"We came out badly at the start," Benford said. "The field funneled into a narrow path very quickly so it was sort of a race to get there. About three miles in, we knew that was our chance, but I think I used up too much steam on the third and forth miles. With a mile to go I had nothing left and ended up getting passed up by the winner and Llano."
Llano's race at the championship was his best ever.
"In the past two years, I've gained a lot of experience and confidence that I didn't have coming into D-1 cross country," he said. "I had a good showing -- a lot better than I've been performing in the last two weeks. I was pretty happy individually."
Llano said he wished the team could have placed higher, but it was difficult to get all five runners to perform well at the same time.
"In cross country, it's hard because you have to have at least five guys show up and have a great race on the same day," he said. "It's really difficult to make it all work. Sometimes there are factors you can't control."
The men's course was mostly through the woods, Llano said. Recently, the team has been racing on open courses, where it's easy to mentally lose focus. Running through the woods with lots of turns was helpful, he said.
Taylor said he was excited about his team's third place finish and called it a huge achievement.
Richmond's men's cross-country team is the only non-scholarship cross-country team in the A-10.
On Nov. 15, both the men's and women's teams will compete in the NCAA Southeast Regional meet in Winston-Salem. Both coaches said they hoped to finish among the top teams in order to earn a bid to the NCAA National Championship.
Despite the women's team having run what the men's coach called a "brilliant race," Lori Taylor said she'll expect even more from her runners.
"To get into the top six [at regionals] would be quite an accomplishment for our program," she said. "We'll need a team effort and a great race, but I think our best race is still ahead of us."
Contact staff writer Jacki Raithel at email@example.com
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