It’s no secret the GW cross country team had a disappointing season last year. Both the men’s and women’s teams were expected to finish in the middle of the Atlantic 10 Conference. But when key runners went down with injuries and the team started to burn out, the season began to go downhill.
Late season distress forced third-year men’s and women’s head coach Jim Hopkins to tinker with the original game-plan. And soon the basics began to slip with the season.
“I tried to be cute,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t stick with the fundamental approach. Instead, we tailored the season around two people, and I didn’t do a good job.”
The truth is, Hopkins could only do so much. The men’s top runner, senior Jeff McCarthy, became ill and could not compete.
“Everyone got frustrated when Jeff went down,” Hopkins said. “Everyone – especially me.”
Hopkins said he believes that McCarthy’s poor health shook the team’s confidence. But this year, McCarthy is healthy and the teams are ready and confident.
A new approach combined with better chemistry is set for this season. Hopkins has pledged to stick with his basic strategy and not to tinker. The basic approach is to build on strength with speed. Strength is the foundation that will keep the team healthy for the long haul, and speed will result from the strength of the team.
“This year’s training is a great improvement compared to last season,” said senior women’s captain Julie Ann Laurance. “We are working on strength training currently, as opposed to only speed. This type of training is a necessity for the races we run. This type of training will add to our confidence level, because we will feel stronger.”
The teams are not dismayed that the A-10 coaches picked both squads to finish ninth in the conference.
“Our goal is to be in the top five,” Hopkins said. “That’ll make it a successful year. If we finish fifth or better, doing what I believe – then I’ll be happy.”
The cross country season is similar in a way to that of professional golf. There are major events that teams prepare for, and others that are mere stepping stones. The “majors” are the IC4A/ECAC Championships, the Atlantic 10 Championships and the NCAA Regionals.
“The team’s forte this year is the diligence that each of its members exhibit,” junior Erin Farrelly said. “Both men and women have dedicated a great deal of time to putting in more quality miles then in previous years.”
The women have lost their two top runners, Amanda Roebel and Lisa Faia, but still field a strong team. Hopkins will rely on Laurance and Farrelly as well as sophomores Ruth Michel and Paige Simms. The rest of the team includes junior Brande Dietrich and sophomores Colleen O’Rourke and Eileen Kickish. The freshmen include Mackenzie Jesson, Laura Jennings and Jessica Gross.
Coach Hopkins is excited about the men this year, primarily because of glimpses of ability shown by freshmen Matt Kascak and David Talbird.
“These guys are doing outstanding,” Hopkins said. “Our program needs more guys like them.”
Other runners for the men include junior Mike Donaldson, who has looked sharp, and sophomore James Moniz, who has greatly improved, Hopkins said.
The team will be led by McCarthy and senior Dan Uriano.
“The men’s team seems to have a lot more enthusiasm,” McCarthy said. “It’s probably attributable to all the new freshmen.”
The other promising freshmen include Rob Wolcheski and Nate Edwards.
“I think we are having more fun this year in practice, and the chemistry among the team members is really good,” McCarthy said. “Only time will tell if our current emphasis on strength and endurance training will pay off. I think it will.”