The University of Richmond women’s track and field team finished in second place last weekend at the Atlantic 10 Conference Championships, relying heavily on standout performances from the senior class.
“It’s exciting because it’s our last run as seniors,” senior Taylor Clevinger said before her race. “It’s sad too, but it’s good that we can lay it all out on the line one last time in indoor.”
Despite an abundance of confidence in their team, Clevinger and redshirt senior Alyson McGonigle both recognized the limitations of Richmond’s small size in numbers and agreed that a top-five finish in such a difficult contest would be a success by most measures. But thanks to an inspired performance from the seniors and solid performances from the rest of the team, the Spiders out-performed expectations.
The seniors’ biggest success this season, though, might not be measured in minutes and seconds, meters or even a second-place trophy. The freshman class on the team consists of 12 women, and there are just 11 combined sophomores and juniors. As a result, the responsibility of mentoring the freshmen fell almost exclusively on the shoulders of the nine seniors on the team.
“I think the freshmen here are looking to the seniors to learn about how things work,” assistant coach Jon Molz said. “Not only on a day-to-day basis with practice, but how to balance their life socially, academically and athletically.”
The seniors set an admirable example this weekend, competing with the best of the conference and winning in many cases. Molz also mentioned how important it was for the freshmen to be able to see the seniors’ good habits and to try and replicate them.
For the Spiders though, setting a good example is merely a part of the relationship between the freshmen and the seniors. Team bonding experiences were crucial to breaking down the age barrier and coming together as a unit.
“We try to implement a kind of buddy system where a senior has a freshman just because we feel like there are so many freshmen,” McGonigle said. “My buddy is a long distance runner and so it was really fun to watch her and cheer her on in the 5k yesterday.” She also said that the buddy system really helped to bridge the gap between athletes who train for different events.
Clevinger and freshman Haley Preschutti both mentioned team breakfasts as a significant part of the team coming together, and Molz said there were no class-based cliques on the team.
“I think our team’s good at being inclusive,” Molz said. “They do a lot of activities outside of practice to foster friendships and relationships.”
Although track and field is very individualized compared to most other sports, the members of the Richmond team still place a high importance on unity and work hard to forge bonds with each other.
Another thing the team has in place to help the younger athletes is a leadership committee, consisting of head coach Lori Taylor, McGonigle, Prentice and Clevinger, as well as several other seniors.
“There’s a leadership team of two fifth-years and five true seniors and [Coach Taylor] guides us and tells us what we need to relay to the team,” McGonigle said. “But if there’s any issues it’s our responsibility to relay them to her.”
Though none of these measures have a tangible effect on the team’s scores, it seems to work well for the Spiders, who have been successful all season. The second-place tie at the conference championship was the defining moment of the season, but Richmond also placed fourth out of 17 teams at the Maryland Invitation in January and, more recently, third out of 13 teams at the Monmouth invitational.
Clevinger won the 1000-meter race, redshirt senior Jill Prentice placed third in the 3000-meter race and senior Deborah Fajuyigbe finished third in the 400-meter dash as well as second in the 200-meter dash. Redshirt senior Alyson McGonigle finished third in the 800-meter race and the Spiders won the distance medley relay with a team that featured three seniors.
Sophomore Marisa Ruskan won the mile and junior Jade Gregory placed second in the 500-meter dash. Preschutti followed McGonigle’s lead, coming in right behind her in the 800-meter race for fourth place. Many other Spiders placed highly as the team tied with George Mason for second out of 13 teams, trailing only VCU.
With the indoor season coming to a close, the Spiders look ahead in anticipation of the future. Although there is certainly talent distributed throughout the sophomores and juniors, the burden to pick up the slack next year will fall mostly on the freshmen because of both the size and talent of their class.
Preschutti doesn’t think it’ll be an issue. “It’s a lot of different personalities,” she said. “But we all somehow mesh really well and kind of balance each other out…and we’re strong and I think we’re really gonna help the team.”
Though next year’s team will be young, it will likely be competitive within the conference thanks to some returning standouts. But the Spiders will be more dangerous in a few years when the freshmen are seniors, with the potential to develop into a class that is large, talented and experienced. That team will be a truly scary prospect for the rest of the A-10.
In the meantime, the Spiders can celebrate a successful finish to a strong season and the seniors can rest assured that they’ve cemented their legacy as one of the most accomplished classes in Richmond track and field history. Their presence will surely be missed, but Molz thinks they’ve left the team in a good spot.
“Worried isn’t the word,” Molz said, explaining his feelings about the graduating seniors. “We’ll certainly miss them as they’ve contributed a lot over the years here…so I’m not worried at all. I think these freshmen and the younger girls on our team have learned a lot this year and there’s still a couple of months to go so I think we’ll be in a great spot going into the next couple of years.”
Contact reporter Walter Abrams at firstname.lastname@example.org