The van felt spacious, carrying its passengers comfortably like a Cadillac. Whispers of conversation carried across the rows, ready for anyone to join in. Six members of the GW inaugural track team had just competed in mid-January at a sports complex a few hundred meters away from the Redskins’ FedEx Field.
They had plenty of room and were under little pressure. By the end of the school year, the team boasted three All-Conference outdoor track athletes, all of whom returned to GW this year. It was a luxury to gain any awards for a team that was in uncharted territory.
A summer later, GW’s cross country and track team is still driving slowly. But this time, no longer brand new, there is much more cargo in tow.
Head coach Terry Weir is in his fourth year, and he says that they are a “developmental team.” To him, this is a positive. They expect this year’s campaign to be their most successful in recent years — if not in program history, dating back to 1991 — as it begins with their biggest roster ever: 46 male and female runners currently, including 21 freshmen.
With this larger group, increased competition and greater talent put the team in position within the next couple years for their first top-third Atlantic 10 finish in program history.
This year, the cross country team needed a bus to carry the lot to West Virginia’s Ace Adventure Resort, the site of a four-day trip the week before classes began.
During the retreat, team-bonding sessions by the bonfire accompanied runs through the mountains, and it all ended in a lip-sync-and-dance battle (there was no winner, but some of the guys broke out top-notch dance moves, freshman Kelli Stetson said).
There were name games, too. And among the events and activities, like a Colonial Inauguration for the particularly swift-legged, there was also the mounting sense that the athletic department and the team’s staff were taking the group very seriously, even in year two.
“It’s a sign of how our program is growing and becoming on par with some of the best in the country,” senior Ryan Tucker said after the team’s practice on Monday.
Without a doubt, the pressure is building to succeed as more talent fills up the lanes at the Georgetown community track, where the team practices.
“I can see how the athletic department probably wants to see some results come out of us because they’ve put a lot of money into the program and a lot of effort to get all these girls here, get this whole squad together,” sophomore Miranda DiBiasio said. “I want us to do well for them so that they can see putting their money here is worth it.”
A home meet
The men have set their goal for a top-five finish at the A-10s. The women have decided they will set their goals after their first meet, at Mount St. Mary’s on Friday. Both teams, though, know that they will learn much about themselves before the conference championship in Richmond on Halloween.
Looking to improve from last year when the women finished 10th and the men 11th, they will have six races prior to the A-10s, including two local races — the George Mason Invitational on Oct. 3 and the DCXC/GW Invitational on Sept. 26, the latter of which will be their first home meet in the District since 2005.
GW will co-host the meet with the Pacer’s Club, a running community affiliated with the running store, which organizes the DCXC project aimed at increasing cross country and distance track opportunities available to students in the D.C. public school system.
This will be the second year of operation for the DCXC Invite, but this year, GW will host a new college arm to the event, including runners from American, Howard and Catholic universities, and potentially from the University of the District of Columbia. The invitational will be held in Kenilworth Park in Northeast D.C. during Alumni Weekend in September.
“People always ask if we have a home meet,” senior John-Louis Pane said. “So, now you can say we do.”
Beating the blues
When you walk into the new cross country and track office — in an athletics building on the corner of 22nd and G streets, adjacent to the EMeRG headquarters — you’re walking into a building still under construction. The office is mostly painted, but Weir said that they can’t find the right hue of blue.
Weir has other, more compelling challenges: scholarships. The athletic department has not yet been able to get more scholarships for the cross country/track team (which acts as one big sport by NCAA scholarship rules, not separate ones).
“I get more out of my scholarship dollars if I get a three-sport athlete — a distance athlete for cross country, indoor and outdoor,” Weir said. “Honestly, that’s where our scholarships are going this year.”
Meanwhile 85 percent of those on the roster are walk-ons, Weir said.
It doesn’t make it recruiting easy, but having a track team at least helps them to compete.
“On our end, that’s always going to be a challenge for us: It’s an expensive school and we don’t have a lot of scholarships, but you know what, we’ll make it work out,” Weir said.
The men’s team should have been comparable in size to the women’s, but recruiting efforts fell through. For now, they will work with what they have, including the four top men’s and three top women’s finishers at last year’s A-10 Championship, all of whom have another year of experience and training.
“It’s been very small increments of progression, but I think this year you could see a very big jump,” Tucker said. “I think we could have the best team this program has seen so far.”