The Colonials won their first ever Atlantic 10 team title at the conference championship in Ohio after finishing in second in 2019 and third in the 2020-21 season.
The team’s score of 50 was 25 points better than the next closest squad in the 5k event and four Colonials finished inside the top 15 to ensure the overall victory. Women’s cross country has steadily built itself into a perennial championship contender since head coach Terry Weir took over in 2012, and it all paid off on Oct. 30.
Graduate student Margaret Coogan said that winning the A-10 title seemed like a “reach” when she was a freshman and the players have improved each season since she’s been on the team.
“I think we’ve really made it our goal to develop the team a lot,” Coogan said.
Four of the Colonials’ five scorers were graduate students. Weir said the depth in their roster played a significant role in the Colonials’ path to victory, as sophomore Catherine Ruffino also placed 30th which would’ve allowed GW to still win the title should have anyone else in the top 5 failed to do so.
Coogan paved the way for the Colonials, finishing in second place with a time of 17:31.7, the third straight year in which she has placed in the top five at the A-10 championship and breaking the “curse of fifth place” after finishing in fifth place the past two years.
“I was definitely thinking about ‘Where can I finish?’ but honestly mostly in relation to ‘How is that going to help the team the most?,’” Coogan said. “When I reflect back already on the weekend, I don’t even remember that I got second, the emotional aspect of winning as a team has completely overcome any of those individual feelings.”
Graduate student Peri Pavicic crossed the line in 17:55.1 to take sixth place while graduate student Kathryn Nohilly was not far behind in 10th place with a time of 18:13.5. Nohilly said crossing the finish line and seeing her teammates right behind her was “awesome.”
“That’s when I was emotional because I was just so excited for her and for us as a team and just realizing that this is probably our last conference meet running with our team and together,” she said.
Freshman Olivia Syftestad offered a glimpse of the future of the program as she finished in 15th place at the 18:19.3 mark and graduate student Julia Dempsey clocked in at 18:30.5, good for 17th place.
Syftestad has made an immediate impact since arriving at GW, claiming third place in her first collegiate meet at the Mount Saint Mary’s Duals Sept. 3 and stayed strong throughout the season that culminated in a scoring position at the A-10 Championship.
“Winning is infectious, so now that we’ve done it once, you’re going to want to keep doing it,” Coogan said. “So for her to get that feeling in her first year and to be such a big part of what we accomplished, I think it just really goes to show that the program in general is going to keep that upward trend.”
The victory represents the culmination of a long climb from the basement of the A-10 that started when Weir took over nearly a decade ago in 2012. Weir said that the program “felt more like intramurals” than a Division I unit back then but that he always knew the potential was there.
The Colonials had a strong showing at the A-10 Championship after a record-setting regular season in which the team achieved its first ever perfect score at the Mount Saint Mary’s 5K Duals Sept. 3 and followed that up with another win at the JMU Invitational Sept. 17.
The victories marked the first time in program history that a Colonials’ team won back-to-back meets, setting the tone for the historic campaign and raising expectations for the final conference meet.
“Nothing’s ever for sure, that’s why they run the race or play the game,” Weir said. “You’ve got to do these things, but really, honestly, all they had to do was go out and execute. Everything was going to be fine.”
Seven members of the 17-person roster are seniors or graduate students, meaning a significant chunk of the title-winning team will not be back next year. Despite the impending loss of experience, Weir said he is grateful for the positive culture of the program from top to bottom and the upward trajectory it is set on for the future.
“It’s not just about the runners who are out there doing it,” Weir said. “Of course, they’re the ones that did all the hard work and earned it and got it but there were so many other pieces to it with all the ladies on the team and with all of our staff members. I just couldn’t be more proud of everybody and being part of this wonderful program.”