With less than three days before the Atlantic 10 Cross Country Championship, head coach Terry Weir can’t sleep.
On his hands is a men’s team looking to beat its program-best third-place result from last season and a women’s team he said is deeper and fitter than any roster the program has sent to the starting line before. With the the team’s first championship race this season Saturday, Weir said he gets the same feeling of anticipation he got when he was running and “usually doesn’t sleep well at all the week of A-10s.”
“As an athlete you just have to worry about yourself, but I know how hard each of these athletes worked and I know what their goals are and I know some of the struggles they went through,” Weir said. “I get wound up for each of them – and we’re racing 20 people.”
Weir said despite sleepless nights sparked by his excitement, he has tried to keep his team calm this week leading up to the grand finale of the cross country season. For the Colonials, this week has been about putting intense training on hold in favor of securing the best mindset to perform in Saturday’s competition.
“It’s just getting mind and body all lined up and connected now and just getting excited and then just try to bring in some of that excitement and unleash it on Saturday,” Weir said.
Leading up to the Princeton Invitational – the last regular season meet – the team was coming off of its toughest training block of the season and the team was running on tired legs. But the team has tapered off on their training to save their legs for Saturday. The men’s team took 10th out of 20 teams and was led by sophomore Jackson Cronin’s 24:47.4 finish, pinning him at 28th in a field of 219 competitors. Five Colonials on the men’s team set personal records at the invitational.
“It’s exactly what we wanted coming out of Princeton,” Cronin said.
The teams competed at Oatlands Plantation, a hilly course in Leesburg, Va., for last season’s A-10 Championship, but this weekend the Colonials will face a slightly flatter terrain at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Va. Because the course is not as physically strenuous as last season’s championship site, the challenge is now out-smarting the competition and being aware of their placement on the course, Weir said.
With the conference’s top-five teams close together in time, the race plan for the men’s team Saturday is to get into front positions early and hold onto them as the race continues, Cronin said.
“It’s a fast course so there’s not going to be a ton of moving around place-wise,” he said. “You just got to get in a good spot in the beginning.”
The women’s side is coming off a 13th place finish out of 22 teams at the Princeton Invitational and kept pace with nationally ranked runners despite three of the team’s top-scorers sitting out the Princeton Invitational to rest.
The Colonials were led for the fourth straight meet by junior Suzanne Dannheim, whose 21:59.3 finish was good for 20th in the field of 222 runners.
Dannheim said assistant coach Matt Lange has been leading workouts for the women’s team this week to make sure the team is focusing on nothing but running. Lange has been minding the clock and keeping pace for the women’s side during workouts so they can have a more relaxed attitude, Dannheim said.
“He really just wants us to think relax mentally, relax emotionally and just stay zoned in and follow along,” Dannheim said. “It’s a taper physically, it’s also a taper mentally and emotionally.”
Dannheim said the women’s team started lifting weights this season which has helped the Colonials become faster and more capable runners, and that extra training is paying off heading into the post season.
On Saturday, the women’s team will focus on packing together in the meet and keeping runners close to their teammates on the course and ahead of the 50-person curve to place well.
“We don’t have the three best runners in the nation, but we have 10 runners who work together really well,” Dannheim said.
Both the men’s and women’s teams were predicted to place fifth in the conference this season, a downgrade from the men’s third-place finish last season and one place up from the women’s placement.
The women’s program has hovered around fifth or sixth in the conference for the last three years after jumping from a 10th place finish in 2014 to a fifth place finish the following year. This season, their placements put them on pace for last year’s results and they return eight runners who raced in last season’s championship meet.
“Everyone knows that we have a place, everyone sees the podium and sees we have a shot at that,” Dannheim said. “And it hasn’t been like that before so it makes for a more exciting energy.”
On the men’s side, senior Andrew Webber is the only Colonial who will be competing at his fourth A-10 Championship this weekend. Only five runners from this season’s squad competed in the championship meet last year.
Despite the inexperience, Cronin said the team is the confident in their ability to stay out in front of the race and do what it takes to continue the program’s upward trajectory from last season.
“Last year was the first time where we really had the confidence to be able to do what we wanted to do,” Cronin said. “Just going to try and do the exact same thing this year. And hopefully do it even better.”
Even though Weir has not been able to get decent sleep this week, he said he knows the team has been thinking about the race just as much as he has.
“This is something they’ve been thinking about all summer when they’re training, all fall with their goals,” Weir said. “I know they’re thinking about it, it’s always been there.”
The Colonials compete in the A-10 Cross Country Championship Saturday in Mechanicsville, Va. starting at 10 a.m.