Both the men's and women's University of Richmond's cross country teams were picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 this season in the preseason polls, but the coaches and runners are aiming for better.
The men's coach, Steve Taylor, said the men wanted to win the conference championship this year and that the possibility of getting to the national championships was within grasp.
The women's coach, Lori Taylor, said the women wanted to win their conference championships and place in the top five at the regional championships just to qualify for the national championships.
As for the preseason predictions, senior Andrew Benford, one of the captains of the men's team, said the team did not take the predictions too seriously, but that it was good motivation to fire it up in training.
Jenn Ennis, a fifth-year senior on the women's team, said the predictions were not something that bothered the team.
"We are confident in how we're going to race this season and so, if anything, we're the underdogs," Ennis said.
For both teams, it is about improving from last season. The men finished eighth in the conference championship and the women finished sixth.
"You know, we put last year behind us and are ready to embrace this upcoming season here," Steve said.
Steve said that last season some runners on the men's team were injured and some of the top runners redshirted. The runners who redshirted included Benford and another one of this year's captains, Matt Llano.
The return of Benford and Llano to the team will immediately have an impact because they are running at a completely different level than they have before, Steve said.
Julie Rechel, a senior on the women's team, said that the biggest challenge for the women might be moving on from last year. She said they were a different team now and have been focusing on new goals and their new team, which included 11 freshmen runners.
Lori Taylor also sees a change in the team.
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"And I do see a renewed sense of passion with our athletes," Lori said. "And I see a renewed sense of commitment to what they're doing and to their team."
Ennis said that last year they got distracted from their goals, but that this year they were more focused.
"So we set really specific goals and they're going to take a lot of work to reach and I think that's what's really joining us together," Ennis said.
And it's not just each team that needs to come together.
"You know, we want a cohesive group of men and women, not separate teams," Steve Taylor said.
He said they needed a united effort to secure two conference championship titles and to get both teams to the national championships.
The teams, who practice at the same time every morning, stretch and do drills together.
Steve Taylor said that in order to have success, sacrifice and discipline had to be in place.
Llano said some sacrifices included not staying out late, making healthy eating decisions and traveling on the weekends.
Steve Taylor called running at this level a lifestyle.
But it's a lifestyle that the runners seem to embrace.
"It's just you don't really get to live the 'normal college life,'" Llano said. "But at least for me, and I know for a lot of my teammates now as well, we wouldn't know how to live that life anymore. You know, we've gotten so used to this as this is our normal college life so we wouldn't be able to do it any other way."
Contact staff writer Michelle Guerrere at firstname.lastname@example.org
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