By GOVINDA AVASARALA
After a strong start to the season, the University of Mary Washington’s men and women’s cross country teams look to take the next step and challenge for a spot at the NCAA National Championships this year.
Both men’s and women’s teams made a strong statement, winning their first race of the season at the Virginia Wesleyan Invitational at Virginia Beach.
The Eagles followed their performance by travelling to New York City to participate in the NYU Invitational, where the women nabbed their second consecutive first place finish and the men took fifth place in their division.
Head coach Stan Soper is cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season.
“The season is still young, but so far we are off to a solid start,” he said. “Our meet at NYU went pretty well, and though we know that we have lots of work ahead of us, we feel like this could be a very successful season for both the women’s and men’s teams.”
Soper’s optimism is not unfounded. At the Virginia Wesleyan Invitational, the Eagles accounted for five of the top six finishers, including sophomores Frank DeVar, Matt Cash, and Jason Driscoll, who finished first, second and third, respectively.
DeVar also finished a team-high 20th in New York.
These “super-sophomores” are part of the reason the men’s team remains confident regarding their chances for the upcoming season.
Senior James Rock is impressed with this year’s roster.
“We have one of the most talented teams that we’ve had over the past four years,” he said.
The men’s team, which has finished second in the conference four of the past five years, and narrowly missed making the NCAA Championships over that same span, sees this year as an great opportunity to usurp the competition and advance deeper into the season.
DeVar said the Eagles are determined to make it all the way this year.
“Our team’s main goal is to win the conference championships and to advance to the NCAA championships as a team,” he said.
On the women’s side, three straight runner-up finishes in the CAC tournament have left UMW with a similar ambition to take over the top spot from Salisbury University.
Soper expects senior leadership to guide the younger runners.
“The women’s team is led by two seniors, and then we have to rely on a good group of freshman,” he said. “Hopefully those freshman women will adjust to this level of training and will help us perform well as a team in November.”
Senior Ann Tripp agrees.
“We definitely are looking strong, but I think that our depth is what might be able to take us even farther this year,” she said.
The women are off to a perfect start after earning a first place finish in their first two competitions of the season.
At Virginia Beach, Tripp and senior Cristy Falcone finished second and third, respectively.
Freshman Hayley Sullivan had a strong performance as well, taking fourth place.
In New York City, Tripp, who was recently named CAC women’s cross country runner of the week, followed up her previous weekend’s performance by placing third.
Falcone finished sixth overall.
The Eagles have an off weekend before they travel to the Paul Short Invitational in Lehigh, PA Sept. 28.