The game plan for the GW men’s and women’s cross country teams is simple: slow down. If the teams go too fast too early, they’ll burn the resources needed to withstand an unusually long season.
This is especially important to the men’s team, which features six freshmen – Darrell Andruski, David Azari, Nick Capone, Mandeep Chahil, Adam Grabel and Devin Kennington. Freshmen typically are not ready for college meets, which are about two miles longer than high school meets. The challenge for fourth-year head coach Jim Hopkins is in bringing them along slowly.
Last season the men’s team included three freshman, but Hopkins said he was not as careful with their development. Hopkins threw them in and asked that they be as strong as the upperclassmen. But their bodies couldn’t handle it, he said.
It was too much, too hard and too fast, Hopkins said. This year I’m doing it differently. I’m bringing them along slowly.
The freshmen are running less during practices. When the upperclassmen run five miles with a minute of rest between miles, the freshman will run four miles with a minute of rest. Hopkins also demands that his freshman do not compete in practice, fearing they will get too familiar with their own turf and will not be able to adapt to other courses.
It’s impossible to say whether it has paid off so far, since runners are really just trying to put on mileage. Freshman Darrell Andruski was the team’s top finisher last weekend when he placed 15th out of 60 runners at the Navy Invitational. But, Hopkins isn’t getting excited quite yet.
I’ve seen freshman come in and run their first meet, Hopkins said. But then they fall off. They get beat up as freshman.
Two freshman stars, David Talbird and Matt Kascak, burned out last season. In their early races the freshmen were keeping pace with the school’s top runner, Jeff McCarthy. But in the end, their performances dropped.
The same thing happened to Mike Donaldson during his freshman year. The senior said it has taken three years to return to his old form.
I had a great freshman year, but then I burnt out, Donaldson said. Ever since then I’ve gotten worse and worse.
Last spring, Donaldson finally found his pace and has been running at his best ever since. Hopkins expects better times from his team this year partly because of Donaldson’s strong performance.
Talbird and Kascak are another source of confidence for the coach.
Hopkins said the two runners look great in practice and don’t seem to be overworked. Hopkins also said he thinks the two sophomores can run as well at the Atlantic 10 Championship meet as McCarthy did last year (seventh out of 103).
But while McCarthy was easily one of the best runners in the conference last year, the rest of the GW team couldn’t keep up. Hopkins said he knows he cannot let one runner dominate the team.
We need to have more balance, Hopkins said.
This means that instead of having one great runner, Hopkins wants a pack that can dominate the middle parts of the race. Team depth will be the ultimate key come October, Hopkins said.
Hopkins is realistic, however, about what to expect from his teams. He said he wants his women’s team to be more patient.
They have to have the confidence that they will get faster, Hopkins said. But it’s critical that they work together and be good teammates.
The women’s team has four freshmen – Jen Bacon, Laura Martin, Christina Mick and Kristin Smith. With four seniors, four juniors and three sophomores they’re a much older team than the men’s squad.
The women’s team is a lot different than the men’s, Hopkins said. We’ve got a large group. I don’t think we have one or two runners who will dominate a race. I don’t think we have one outstanding runner. We’ve got really good seven, eight, nine runners.
Hopkins said the goal is to have five to seven runners finish between 25th and 50th place in any one race.
At last weekend’s Navy Invitational, Peterson finished 23rd out of 63 and Dietrich finished 33rd. Dietrich said she and her teammates have a positive outlook on the season – mainly because of Hopkins’ leadership.
I put all my faith in him, Dietrich said.