The men's and women's cross country teams have been training since June, staying on track for a post-season appearance at the NCAA National Cross Country Championships Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind.
But they do not have many meets left to prove the championship caliber of their programs.
Men's head coach Steve Taylor said the team's performance at the end of the season was the most important for making an NCAA championship appearance, the team's ultimate goal.
"Although our record during the season is important, unlike other sports, what takes place in the first two meets for us really has no impact on our season, except for building momentum," he said.
The men's team has had only had one big meet so far, the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa., which took place last Friday. The Spiders placed sixth overall, and senior captain Andrew Benford finished in third place. Fellow senior captains Matt Llano and Tim Quinn also finished second and third for the Spiders, with Llano coming in sixth and Quinn finishing 24th, overall.
"The Paul Short run was the first time we've ran well together as a team all season," Benford said. "We don't compete every weekend because we're selective about the races we run."
Both programs compete against perennial cross country powerhouses, such as the University of Virginia, North Carolina State University, Liberty University and Georgetown University. Llano said that U.Va. had been the toughest opponent so far for the men's team, because the Cavaliers won the Paul Short Invitational.
"If we can all pull out a good race on the same day, I think we're capable of beating [U.Va.]," he said. "Cross country is such a team-oriented sport. In order to be successful as a team, we all need to have good races on the same day."
Steve said that the captains were the backbone of the team, and set the tone for leadership and responsibility, which resulted in gains for the team as a whole.
"Some of our underclassmen, such as Levi Grandt and Chris York, have also stepped up in leadership roles for the team," he said.
He also said one of the biggest differences between this team and previous years' teams was that the team had three returning fifth-year seniors (Benford, Llano and Jon Wilson) who had a passion for the sport and team.
Lori Taylor, women's head coach, said that the women's team had two fifth-year seniors as well, Jenn Ennis and Amy Van Alstine.
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"The fifth-year women, along with senior Nicol Traynor, have shown tremendous leadership and responsibility throughout their careers," Lori said. "It is definitely important that each of them take responsibility to lead, but to make sure that they are all leading in the same direction, which is toward our goals of a conference championship title, and a team appearance at nationals."
Traynor, one of the three women's captains, said that the biggest success so far has been its win at the Wolfpack Invitational on Sept. 17.
"We ran really well as a team at NC State," she said.
Van Alstine, another team captain, said that last week's race at the Paul Short Invitational was not as good for her team. Because of the large number of athletes, she said the team had a more difficult time running together.
Quinn said that all of the commitments really came down to the training the team does.
"We all came into the program knowing that we would go through this training, which is really years in the making, and at some point, it would get us to where we want to be," Quinn said.
Benford said that the teams' predecessors, such as John Ciccarelli (RC '06) and Jonathan Molz (RC '08), took the program into a new direction.
"The past leaders and Coach Taylor, have instilled training regimens that we've taken to heart, and we're ready to capitalize on that," Benford said.
The women's team has found its leaders primarily in the upperclassmen, Lori said, but freshman Jill Prentice, this week's Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week, also held her own.
Traynor and Van Alstine said that this year's team was different because last year the team was plagued with injuries.
"We have a lot more depth this year. We're all healthy because of the training everyone did over the summer," Traynor said.
Quinn said that the team had done well in competition so far, but the team was not taking anything lightly as they headed into the NCAA Pre-Nationals, which is held in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 16. Llano said that after pre-nationals, the team strives for an A-10 Conference Championship title, a victory that would give the team an automatic bid to nationals.
Van Alstine said that the team's goal for pre-nationals was to beat teams from the A-10 and other regional teams to prove to NCAA officials that they should be candidates for an at-large bid, the only route to nationals if the Spiders did not capture the A-10 championship.
But Traynor thinks that the team has a lot of potential to claim the title.
"We want to win the A-10 handily to show that last year was a fluke and we're ready to make NCAA nationals as a team," she said.
Steve said that at this point in the season the team was continuing to increase the intensity of training and competition because we are anxiously looking forward to the next race.
"Our team has a renewed sense of dedication, good goals and great expectations," Llano said.
The teams will race at pre-nationals Oct. 16 in Terre Haute, Ind., and then in the A-10 Championships Oct. 30 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Contact staff writer Amelia Vogler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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