Cross country: Tribe pulls the upset

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November 17, 2014

6:30 PM

The William and Mary women’s cross country team headed to the southeast regional championships in Louisville knowing the team was a huge underdog, as sports experts predicted the Colonial Athletic Association Champions would finish in 5th place or lower.

Defying expectations, the team pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year. The Tribe beat three nationally ranked teams and several other powerhouse programs to finish first overall in the event. The College will advance to nationals next week.

Tournament favorites No. 11 North Carolina, No. 14 Virginia and No. 18 North Carolina State were all expected to beat the Tribe. But, thanks to five runners finishing in the top 25 of the event, the College finished first with a 74-point score. The second place finisher, Virginia, ended the day with 82 points, eight behind the Tribe. North Carolina, finishing 3rd, scored 94 points on the day, a full 20 points behind the College.

“I think, in some ways, we felt pretty under-ranked,” assistant women’s coach Natalie Hall said. “But that’s where we kind of shrugged off the rankings and said, ‘What we do during the day is what matters,’ and so I think that’s what we really went after.”

Redshirt junior Carolyn Hennessey led the Tribe, finishing at 20:14.7. She finished with the second-fastest time for the event. Hennessey, winner of the CAA cross country title, was named to the all region team for the first time in her career. She reflected on her performance.

“A lot of little things [went well], I think,” Hennessey said. “The biggest thing, though, is being a senior — having that sense of urgency and wanting to accomplish the goals I set out my freshman year. You only have so much time to do it, so you might as well make the most of the opportunity.”

Junior Meghan McGovern, freshman Regan Rome and senior Dylan Hassett were all also named to the all-region team. For Rome and Hassett, who finished 14th and 15th, respectively, it was their first appearance on the all-region team. McGovern, the team’s captain, finished 18th and has placed on the all-region list in consecutive years. Junior All-American Emily Stites was the fifth and final member of the Tribe to place in the top 25, finishing 25th on the day.

This is the first time the women’s team has won at regionals. The College will advance to the NCAA Championships for the third year in a row. The championships take place in Terre Haute, Ind. Nov. 22. The event kicks off at noon, and can be streamed live on NCAA.com.

“If the girls go out and do what they are capable of doing, the sky’s the limit for them,” director of track and field Stephen Walsh said. “It’s all about managing the stress, managing the race over the next couple of days, and getting them ready for it. I think they have shown, time and time again, that they can do it. This next Saturday is another chance to show it.”

The men’s team also had a successful day at Louisville. Coming off its 15th consecutive conference championship — the second longest active streak in the nation — the Tribe was slated to finish 16th. Instead, it managed to finish 12th overall in the 33-team event.

Junior Ryan Gousse was the Tribe’s top performer, finishing in 31:18.9 for 47th place. Four members of the College finished in the top 100 on the day, and all of the College’s runners finished in the top 140.

The men’s cross country season has come to a close, and many of its members will begin focusing on the indoor track and field season. The College’s first meet will be the Christopher Newport Holiday Invitational Dec. 6.

Led by an excellent performance by the women’s team, the College’s cross country teams had another great season. The men and women’s teams are both powerhouses, combining for a total of 57 conference championships. The women’s team will look to continue its dominance by winning the program’s first-ever national championship.

Director of track and field Stephen Walsh

“It was huge for the program. What everyone is saying right now, is that its small schools against ACC schools. We thought we could do it, and that’s all that matters. It’s a great step in the right direction. After finishing second each of the past two years, its a huge accomplishment and now to go out and win it – it shows the type of ladies and staff we have on the program.”

“We have five to seven girls capable of doing very well. Carolyn has been leading the pack very well, and looking to be All-American is something not out of the question.”

Assistant women’s coach Natalie Hall

“There’s a healthy amount of nervousness that comes with it, but I think on race day, I really wasn’t super nervous. I felt like if the girls just ran like they were capable of, it was going to take care of itself.”

“From here out, the hay is in the barn, the money in bank. It’s just helping them feel really confident. I think at this point, they feel really confident in themselves and they’re seeing that the goal of being top-10 in the country that we set out at the beginning is really attainable.”

Redshirt junior Carolyn Hennessey

“The game plan was to go out with the lead group and just stay as relaxed as possible until 4k, then to do work. I thought that I executed the race plan pretty well. Between 3k and 4k I started to pull away from the pack, because there were too many girls there, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the UNC girl caught me at the end, but no regrets and I left it all out there.”

“Just keep doing what I’m doing. All-American and see if I can sneak into the top-25.”

Transcribed by Flat Hat sports editor Chris Weber. 

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