As Andrew Benford climbed the final hill of the Schenley Park course in Pittsburgh, Pa., Saturday and honed in on the defending champion of the race, his sights were equally set on both individual and team Atlantic 10 Conference titles. Having raced there as a freshman with teammates Matt Llano and Jon Wilson, he knew exactly what to expect during the race.
This knowledge helped propel Benford to an individual title, the men's cross country team to its first conference championship and the women's team to its third championship.
"Coach [Steve Taylor] had us doing workouts throughout our training that would simulate the terrain and layout of the course, so this also paid huge dividends, as there were no surprises on race day," Benford said.
Benford won the 8K race with course record time of 24 minutes, 12 seconds, passing Dayton University's Chris Lemon in the final 1,000 meters. Llano finished third, also breaking the previous course record, with a time of 24:23. Senior Tim Quinn finished sixth (24:47), Wilson placed 19th (25:12), junior Levi Grandt finished 22nd (25:18), sophomore Jason Skipper finished 38th (25:41) and sophomore Chris York finished 40th (25:41).
"The victories are huge milestones for our program," said Quinn. "It's been years in the making to get to this point, and we couldn't be happier having won on both the men's side and the women's side.
"When we decided to redshirt Matt [Llano], Andrew [Benford] and Jon [Wilson] last year, we made a commitment to putting our best team together this year, and it's a relief to finally see all our hard work pay off."
Benford called Wilson the "team MVP" following boughts with injuries during the past few years.
"He ran a truly gutsy race, putting it all on the line to place 20th and help secure our team title," he said.
Quinn also credited alumni Jon Lauder, John Ciccarelli and Jon Molz with helping lay the foundation for the team's accomplishments.
Men's head coach Steve Taylor said that his team, along with the entire Atlantic 10 Conference, had improved during the past nine years. John Ciccarelli, who is the last Richmond athlete to win an individual title, won the individual title in 2004 at Schenley Park with a time of 25:30, more than one minute slower than Benford's time Saturday.
The women's team secured its second conference title in three years. Senior Nicol Traynor finished second with a time of 17:17, which eclipsed the previous course record by six seconds. Senior Amy Van Alstine finished fourth (17:33), senior Julie Rechel finished 11th (17:52), freshman Jill Prentice finished 12th (17:58), senior Jenn Ennis finished 14th (18:01), freshman Alli Mannon finished 22nd (18:18) and senior Erin Lunny finished 25th (18:21).
"It's great for both teams to win," women's head coach Lori Taylor said. "We had a huge crowd of Spider fans there cheering. Our teams have been inspired with specific goals.
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"Today they realized one of those goals with two Atlantic 10 team titles."
Just as Benford said he and Llano had worked together to win their race, Traynor credited her teammates with the success achieved by her team.
"It was me, Amy [Van Alstine], Julie [Rechel] and Jill [Prentice] together at that point [early in the race] and then we started racing with the goal of using what we had left for the last mile," Traynor said.
The accolades for Richmond continued as the Taylors were both named Atlantic 10 Coaches of the Year.
"Now that we've checked off the goal of winning A-10s, we're focused on accomplishing our next goal, which is reaching the NCAA Championships [Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind.], which would also be a first for our program]," Quinn said.
Steve Taylor praised his team, which is the only non-scholarship team at the university.
"It is expected they will make the sacrifices necessary to achieve success," he said. "Our sport is not a 7:30 - 9:30 a.m. occupation for our team members — it's a way of life. It's something they live and breathe every day.
"That's what it takes to be a successful distance runner."
The NCAA Southeast Regional Championships will take place Nov. 13 in Louisville, Ky.
Contact staff writer Jimmy Young at firstname.lastname@example.org
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