At the beginning of the year, both men’s head coach Alex Gibby and women’s head coach Kathy Newberry stressed the importance of finding a team identity.
Following their teams’ first real tests of the year – the Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, Ind. – Gibby and Newberry have found team identities sooner than originally thought thanks to their teams’ successes at Pre-Nationals.
“This year’s team is the most dynamically stable since I’ve been here,” Newberry said. “They know how to push each other without being negative.”
The College – ranked seventh in the Southeast Region – finished 16th in the 6,000-meter White Race at Pre-Nationals. Junior Emily Anderson led the Tribe, finishing 45th in the race with a time of 21:19.4. Two other juniors, Meghan Burns and Kayley Byrne, finished within the top 100 runners with times of 21:47.4 and 21:53.5, respectively.
But rural Indiana wasn’t the only place where the College had success Oct. 18. The same day, runners not at Pre-Nationals raced at the Tribe Open at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, finishing atop a small field of area colleges.
“Three weeks later on the same course [as the Colonial Inter-Regional Challenge], the girls were much fitter,” Newberry said.
The Tribe’s top-two finishers in that race, junior Ariel Burbey and sophomore Meredith Tighe, will join the Pre-Nationals group this weekend at the 25th Colonial Athletic Association Championships in Fairfax. Sophomore Betsy Graney, who is back after rehabbing tendonitis in her right knee for the past month, will also join the College at the CAA championship meet.
If all goes according to plan, this race should feature a Tribe squad hitting on all cylinders. And, if it can fend off a red-hot James Madison University squad, the College should come home with its sixth straight CAA championship.
“We haven’t put it together for one entire race,” Newberry said. “We’re looking to get closer this weekend.”
For the 21st ranked men, the Pre-Nationals meet was an enormous success, as the Tribe tied for its best finish ever at the 8,000-meter race. Sophomore Patterson Wilhelm, who finished in 24:09.8, and juniors Jon Gray and Colin Leak, who completed the 8k layout in 24:11.0 and 24:19.9, respectively, led the Tribe to a sixth-place finish, a mere eight points behind no. 14 University of Minnesota.
The College’s best-ever finish came even with one of its top runners, junior Ben Massam, who entered the race suffering from a virus and finished sixth on the team. Massam was the Tribe’s top-runner Sept. 27 when he won the Colonial Inter-Regional individual title.
Fortunately for the College at Pre-Nationals, two unexpected sources stepped in to fill the void left by Massam.
“[Sophomore Tom Burke] took a step forward for us in the meet, and [freshman Peter Dorrell] did a solid job in his first meet since losing his redshirt,” Gibby said.
The effort put forth by the Tribe at Pre-Nationals may have earned it enough at-large points to officially qualify for the NCAA meet next month at the same course.
Strong individual performances at the Tribe Open from sophomores Lewis Woodard and Jay Bilsborrow and freshmen Chris Tyson and Alex McGrath, who will all compete at the CAA meet Saturday, have the College in position to capture its ninth consecutive CAA championship, even without Massam, who will sit out while recuperating from his sickness.
“If we meet expectations, I expect us to win,” Gibby said.