The Collegian
Thursday, November 30, 2023

Cross country program heads to NCAA Regional Championships with momentum

<p>Tara Hanley, pictured middle right, led the women's cross country team to a victory at the A-10 Championships.&nbsp;Photos courtesy of Richmond Athletics.&nbsp;</p>

Tara Hanley, pictured middle right, led the women's cross country team to a victory at the A-10 Championships. Photos courtesy of Richmond Athletics. 

Women win Atlantic 10 Championships

When Tara Hanley spilled her pre-race coffee before the Atlantic 10 Championships, she was not concerned. Hanley has a tendency to spill her coffee before every race, and the fact that this was no exception gave her and her roommate, Taylor Clevinger, a boost of confidence.

“We both were like, 'It’s going to be a great day,'” Hanley said.

And it was. Hanley, a senior, led the team to a one-point victory over Duquense and finished fourth with a 5k time of 17:20.9. It was the first time the meet had been won by a one-point margin and was the women’s cross country program’s first Atlantic 10 championship since 2010.

Hanley was followed closely by sophomore Courtney Thompson, who finished 11th with a time of 17:39.4. Both earned All-Conference awards. Additionally, head coach Lori Taylor received the Atlantic 10 cross country women’s coach of the year award.

With Hanley being the lone senior competing for Richmond at the meet, Taylor’s season-long strategy centered on building confidence within a team composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores. Haley Preschutti, a sophomore who came in sixth on the team and 70th overall with a time of 18:51.1, stressed the confidence that Taylor has helped the team to build over the season.

“We are serious about what we do, but we aren’t stone-faced," Preschutti said. "Most of us were smiling up until the gun went off, which I think reflects our positive attitude towards the race and our confidence in the team’s abilities. We have developed crucial confidence in ourselves and our teammates.”

Through wins at the Spider Alumni Invitational and the Wake Forest Cross Country Invitational, the team was able to gradually build confidence and translate it into a positive performance when it mattered the most at the conference championships.

“Confidence level is the most important thing, and you really can’t fool yourself into believing that you’ve done all the right things or that you’ve trained hard or that you’ve raced hard," Taylor said. "It is really that accountability to all those things.”

The Spiders hope that confidence and accountability will translate to continued success as the women’s cross country team competes again this Friday, November 13th for the NCAA Division I Southeast Region Cross Country Championship at the University of Virginia’s course, Panorama Farms, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their goals are to qualify for the NCAA Championship, to have several girls receive All-Region honors (which requires placing in the top 25), and to place within the top six as a team.

Men work to overcome recruiting troubles

Despite the loss of the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs, the leadership of head Coach Steve Taylor and the senior runners are working to make the University of Richmond men’s cross country team a powerful program for years to come.

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In September of 2012, the University of Richmond decided to eliminate the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs, which Taylor said “crushed a thriving cross country program here at UR.” Before the decision, the men’s cross country team had recently won the 2010 Atlantic 10 Championships and were twenty-fourth in the 2010 NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships, even as the only varsity team at Richmond without athletic scholarships.

Recruitment became substantially more difficult following the decision though, Taylor said. “Before, we had athletes from across the U.S. contacting us expressing their interest and wanting to be part of a rapidly growing program and university," he said. "Following the decision, recruiting effectively ended. We struggled to get any recruit to speak with us regarding the men’s program, let alone actually commit to enroll at UR.”

Matt McKenna (pictured right), Jordan Chavez, Tim Gruber, and Justin Keefe are current seniors who stuck with the program during this time. Together, they have worked to provide the type of leadership and guidance to younger runners that they felt would be necessary to rebuild a successful program.

“I hope to be a formidable leader for my teammates and get them to see leadership qualities within themselves, believing in their abilities to do great things, day in and day out,” McKenna said.

Sophomore Alex Lucking said he thought this approach was working. “With forty percent of the guys on the roster being seniors who all live together, the leadership has been strong, and it helps the younger guys on the team learn, bettering the team as a whole,” Lucking said.

The success the team has had this year suggests Lucking may be right. The team won at home at the Cross Country Only Invitational on October 17th, and McKenna and Lucking took first and second place. In the Atlantic 10 Championships, the team finished 10th, again led by McKenna, who came in sixth in the five-mile race with a time of 24:48, and Lucking, who finished 14th with a time of 25:02.8. Both received All-Conference awards.

The Spiders will be back in action on November 13th for the NCAA Regional Championships, where they hope to showcase their continued drive.

“Where we lack in depth with only about eight guys, we fill with heart,” McKenna said.

Contact sportswriter Lauren Onestak at

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