Both the men’s and women’s squads won their first two meets of the year, becoming the first teams in program history to win both of their first two team events in a season.
The women’s team swept the top six spots at Mount St. Mary’s 5K Duals Sept. 3 to claim its first team win since 2015. Graduate student Margaret Coogan came in first with a time of 18:33.78 followed by a second place finish from graduate student Peri Pavicic.
Freshman Olivia Syftestad, claimed third in her first collegiate race to help the Colonials register the first perfect team score in program history.
Syftestad has made an instant impact on the team as a first-year, scoring in both of the meets thus far. She was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie Performer of the Week on Sept. 8, after placing third at the Mount St. Mary’s Duals in her GW debut. She is the first individual honoree for women’s cross country since Suzanne Dannheim was named the performer of the week in 2019.
Syftestad followed up her performance with a ninth place finish at the James Madison University Invitational Sept. 17, earning another rookie performer of the week nod for a second straight time. The Chicago native said she did not expect to make an immediate impact on the squad, considering the presence of six graduate students already on the roster.
“It’s weird being 18 and running with girls who are like 23 and people who just know what they want to do with their lives,” Syftestad said. “It feels like we’re on completely different paths but I just love how we’re able to come to practice each day. Everyone has that shared desire to just get better and work hard.”
Syftestad and freshman Megan Gonzalez are the only first years in the men’s or women’s programs to feature in both of the meets so far this year.
Head coach Terry Weir said the team held only one workout before the meet. He said he went into the event hoping to evaluate the fitness level of the team and get them back in the swing of competitive running.
Instead, the program walked away with two wins and a perfect score. Weir said the depth of the women’s team this year is “probably the best we’ve ever had.”
The men’s team also finished first in the event with a score of 25, winning its first meet since 2018. Senior Thomas Sand, a transfer from South Alabama, placed second in his GW debut with a time of 15:53.30.
Junior James Glockenmeier and sophomore Kevin Conlon both finished within six seconds of Sand to boost the Colonials’ score and secure the victory.
The men’s and women’s units followed up their opening meet successes by marking another achievement in the record books at the JMU Invitational on Sept. 17. The men came close to earning their own perfect score by nearly locking in the top five spots, finishing in first, third, fourth, fifth and tenth places en route to a team score of 23.
Glockenmeier won his first career individual race, winning the 8K with a time of 25:43.50 to lead the way for GW. Four days later, Glockenmeier was named the A-10’s men’s performer of the week. Sand’s time of 26:01.50 was fast enough to finish in third place.
Pavicic’s time of 19:02.30 was the best among the women’s team in the 5K and third best across all runners. Four other Colonials finished inside the top 10, giving them a team score of 31 and a second consecutive win.
“It’s really exciting because we definitely have the opportunity to do really well this year,” Syftestad said. “I think the team’s been growing and expanding for so long and I think we’re in a really good position at this point, that if we all are on the same page, and we’re all healthy, hopefully we can definitely make an impact.”
Syftestad said her main goal for the season is to stay healthy and “trust” her body because she still has three more years to come.
Weir said he is trying not to place pressure upon her as a first year runner, but that her performance thus far is “a great place to start.”
“The sky’s the limit for Olivia,” Weir said. “We’re really excited to see what the rest of the year holds for her. But more so just going through this journey with her for the next four years, developing as a speedy student athlete that she is.”
Upon his arrival at GW in 2011, Weir has overseen a steady buildup of the program since the men’s and women’s teams finished 13th out of 14 teams in the A-10 Championship in the same year. The women’s cross country nabbed a second place finish at the A-10 Championship in 2020 – its highest in program history.
“We definitely want to win an A-10 team championship for both our men and women in cross country,” Weir said. “That’s a big goal for us now and I think it’s a realistic goal for us. I know we’re going to do that here in the next year or two, it’s going to happen for sure.”
Weir said he wants a team to qualify for the NCAA Championship after Dannheim became the second runner to qualify for the tournament in program history with a seventh place finish at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional in 2019.
The Colonials will compete in the Paul Short Run Colonials, hosted by Lehigh, on Oct. 1. GW’s last time out was in 2019, where the men’s and women’s squads finished 13th and 15th, respectively.
This article appeared in the September 27, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.