According to Head Coach Alex Gibby, the hard work has already been done by the College. When his team breaks the starting line in Terre Haute, Ind. Monday at the NCAA Championship race, Gibby is confident six months of training will culminate in a 30-minute performance on the pathway to success.
“At this point, the hay is in the barn,” Gibby said. “Now it is just a matter of staying sharp from a physical perspective, and there is really not much to be done. It is simply [time to] execute at the same level we have been firing on all year.”
Ranked seventh in the country in the final poll before nationals, the Tribe improved upon last year’s 16th place finish to establish itself as a premier program, winning its 10th straight CAA championship in late October.
“We returned everybody [from last season] and added a few pieces,” Gibby said. “I wouldn’t say we are a team of destiny, but there is a feeling that this is a good group … It is the best group I have had here.”
This year’s team is out to improve its mark from 1973 when the College finished fourth in the country. Stanford and Oklahoma State stand out as clear favorites in this year’s race, but the parity among the rest of the top ten makes the final placements difficult to predict.
“Between three to 11 in the country, it is so narrow,” Gibby said. “If you run the race 10 times, I think you [would] come out with 10 different results.”
Senior Jon Grey and junior Patterson Wilhelm will lead the College Monday and, if they race well, should garner All-American honors. Wilhelm and Grey finished fourth and fifth respectively at the Southeast Regional Championship last week when the College demolished the competition to win its second consecutive title.
But for the Tribe to better its final result from last season, Gibby believes his squad needs to get out fast to avoid tactical mistakes made last year.
“Last year we ran very well, but tactically we made some errors early in the race that made our lives a little more difficult,” Gibby said. “From an execution standpoint we are looking for a polished effort and that means … not being too ambitious yet not being as conservative as we were last year. It is [a] matter of setting the table over the first two miles that will determine our success.”
The College finished fourth at pre-nationals Oct. 17 in the 34-team Blue Race, which is held on the same course as Monday’s championship. The grass course is complete with a couple of extended hills and sharp turns. Gibby said the course necessitates patience and is a fair measure of the best teams.
This year marks the 13th consecutive appearance for the Tribe at nationals, a mark currently equaled by only four other programs.