One meet stands between men’s and women’s cross country and the Atlantic 10 Championship.
The Princeton Invitational Friday is the last race of the regular season and will serve as a final tuneup before GW takes on the conference finals later this month.
“It will boost your confidence if you do well and if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” sophomore Jackson Cronin said. “We’ve got two more weeks until A-10s and it’s just great for getting your mindset right before the biggest competition of the season.”
The Colonials have found consistent success at their meets this season. The men’s and women’s teams earned first and second place finishes, respectively, at the Mount St. Mary’s Duals in August, and senior Andrew Weber won the entire men’s race for his first individual victory to kick off the year.
The women’s team tacked on another second-place finish to their record at the Army Open in September, where they bested the next closest competitor by 20 points. The men’s team had three runners place in the top 21 on the field to place third in the competition.
“I look at each of these races and each week it’s just momentum builder going into the postseason,” head coach Terry Weir said.
With the postseason coming up, Weir said the team’s focus has shifted from development and getting into a race mindset to executing tactical plans Weir has been coaching this season in meets.
“It’s not a fitness issue anymore,” Weir said. “Now it’s more of a racing tactical thing. I want them to have the confidence to do something different tactically, kind of put themselves in different positions for us.”
Last season at Princeton, the men finished 11th in a field of 22 while the women secured 14th place out of 20 teams. The Colonials will see fellow A-10 competitors George Mason, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s at Princeton this year, making the teams’ preparation especially important.
“I think we’re just better teams this year,” Weir said. “So it’s a little bit different how we go about doing things. But I think we’ve progressed each meet very, very well.”
The men’s team lacks the depth they had in previous seasons after graduating some of the program’s top runners, Weir said, but runners like Cronin and junior Jon Dooling have stepped up into scoring roles.
“Although we did lose some very important guys, other guys have stepped up to fill those roles on the team, which has been huge for our success the past three meets,” Cronin said.
On the women’s side, the team has more depth to its roster than in previous years, Weir said, and has been led by junior Suzanne Dannheim, who has come in first for the Colonials in all three meets including two top-three finishes.
“What’s really different this year is the number of people on the roster who are actually competing,” Dannheim said. “In previous years we’ve had a 20-person team where only 10 can compete, sometimes even less.”
Schools are limited to 12 runners at the Princeton Invitational. The women’s team will sit out seniors Halley Brown and Madison Yerke and junior Gabrielle Vlattas, three of the team’s scoring five, so Weir can evaluate runners who are not usually in scoring position to prepare a 10-person lineup for the A-10 competition, he said.
“It’s not really how fast or anything, it’s just how they compete and how they’re able to race is what I’m looking for,” Weir said.
Both teams will also be focusing on tightening the race spread – the time between the first and fifth runners to cross the finish line – at the Princeton races while improving race strategy.
The men’s team is coming off a program-best third-place finish at the conference meet last season and has worked toward repeating its placement throughout the season.
“From the start of the season, our goal was to finish the same if not better at A-10s and we think that we’re capable of doing so,” Cronin said. “It would be a disappointment not to.”
While the men are seeking to improve on a record season, the women’s team has seen a season of “growth and change,” Dannheim said. While the Colonials placed second in the opening two meets of the year, Dannheim looks forward to improving their placement next season.
“We’re kind of getting that environment, getting that team, close-knit positive group together and next year is going to be when we are coming in first,” Dannheim said.
The Colonials will race for the last time this regular season at the Princeton Invitational Friday in New Jersey.