Whether in the mountains of Italy or in the backyard of Richmond, Va., the men's and women's cross country teams are back in action for the 2009 season.
Senior Andrew Benford finished 13th in the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy on Sept. 6, and the men's and women's cross country teams - led by first-place finishes from junior Tim Quinn and senior Jenn Ennis - defeated the College of William & Mary in the Spider Alumni Open on Sept. 5.
It was Benford's second trip to the World Championships, this year held at an Italian ski resort near Chiavenna in the Alps. He came in 12th as a junior (under 20 years old) in 2006. This year he led Team USA's six-member team, despite being its youngest member, running the 13-kilometer course (3 laps of 4.3K) in 58 minutes, 9 seconds - 34 seconds ahead of his closest teammate. Sophomore Tim Smith finished 55th out of 68 runners in the junior men's race, finishing the 8.8K (2 laps of 4.3K) course in 46:10.
Benford said that even though it was a great race, he didn't want to get caught up in it too early during the season and have it affect his ability to be one of the leaders on the men's team.
"You want to enjoy the moment, celebrate it with your teammates and friends," Benford said. "But what do you have next week? You've got to move on and keep it in perspective. It was a great opportunity, great experience, but we've got bigger goals here we've got to take care of as a team."
Back in Richmond, both the men's and women's teams won the Spider Alumni Open against William & Mary.
It was a dominating effort from the women, who had the fastest eight runners in the women's race. Following Ennis, who ran the two-mile course in 11:23.0, junior Julie Rechel (11:36.5), freshman Kaitlyn Oliver (11:45.5) and sophomores Beth Kelly (11:47.9) and Carter Norbo (11:49.0) rounded out the top five. Sophomore Emma Berry (6th, 11:52.7), freshmen Rachel Sykes (11:53.7) and Stephanie Paradis (11:59.8), capped off the Spiders' sweep of the top eight runners.
The men's team didn't have as dominating a performance, but with three runners in the top five, it had just enough to squeak out a win against William & Mary. Quinn finished first for the men, running the 5K course in 15:24.3. Sophomore Levi Grandt (15:46.3) and senior Garrett Graham (15:52.3) finished in fourth and fifth place. Freshman Chris York was the only other Spider in the top 10, with an eighth-place finish, 15:54.7.
Senior Matt Llano said he didn't run in the meet because the runners were being selective with their races this season, and because he had run the Annapolis 10-mile race in Annapolis, Md., on Aug. 30 - a race he won with a time of 49:38, almost five minutes ahead of his closest competitor. Although he didn't race at the team's first meet, Llano said the race was a good indicator of where certain runners' fitness levels were, and would help gauge where the team was early during the season.
"We got to see the team dynamic of where people are in relation to other people on the team, so we can figure out who should be working out with who," Llano said.
Steve Taylor, head coach of the men's cross country team, also said that it was the teams' first opportunity to see how the freshmen would compete and where all the runners were in their summer training.
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"We have a few upperclassmen coming back who look good, and some of the freshmen as well, on the men's and the women's side," Taylor said, adding that both teams were deep this season.
The women's team won the Atlantic 10 Championship last season, and Taylor said the team would try to defend the title in 2009. He said that after that the team was capable of finishing in the top five at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship.
Taylor said it was a little more difficult to throw out goals for the men's team because Benford and Llano hadn't run for the team yet, but he said the team still aimed to win the A-10 Championship after finishing third in 2008. Llano added that the team hoped to finish between fifth and seventh at the NCAA Regional, and that the team hoped to send some runners to Nationals as well.
In order to break through and win the A-10, the men's team was focusing more on the smaller details with the weight room, drills and nutrition, Llano said.
"We're kind of focusing on all the things that have a big impact that people don't necessarily focus on a lot," Llano said.
Taylor said that having team leaders such as Benford and Llano would also help the team progress throughout the season.
"There's a lot of science that goes into our training," Taylor said, "and they understand that science and how, on a daily basis, they need to convey to those freshman and sophomore runners what they need to do in order to elevate their level of ability."
The A-10 Cross Country Championship will be at St. Louis University on Oct. 31. Taylor said the teams would get their first looks at conference rivals, such as the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Duquesne University, the University of Dayton and the University of Massachusetts. The Spiders will see other conference foes, LaSalle University and St. Joseph's University, at the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University on Oct. 2.
Taylor said that before those meets, the teams would have to look at results from other sites and meets to see how they compared, though he noted that the A-10 had improved since he arrived eight years ago, last year sending seven runners to the NCAA Championships.
The NCAA Southeast Regional Championship will be at Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 14, and will feature schools from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky.
The next meet for both the men's and women's teams is the North Carolina Challenge on Friday, Sept. 18, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Taylor said the other teams competing in the meet had not been released, but North Carolina, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University were a few of the competitive teams that ran in last year's meet.
"How we do down there next week will tell us a lot on where we are," Taylor said. "We know that we've got work to do, but we're certainly looking forward to a great fall here."
Contact staff writer Stephen O'Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org
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