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#TGW: Crest of the Hill

Oct. 29, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– When Georgia Tech’s runners face the hills in Friday morning’s ACC Cross Country Championships at Panorama Farms near Charlottesville, Va., they’ll be ready.

The Yellow Jacket women (and men) have done more hill training this fall than in recent years, and they’ve been climbing steadily with better results than in years.

Led by seniors Katie Townsend and Kelly Meyer, the lady Jackets have placed second, first and second in meets this fall, most recently finishing behind only Alabama among 24 other teams in the Crimson Classic two weeks ago.

The men finished third there, and both squads climbed to No. 5 rankings in the South regional as a result.

The women, who placed 12th in the ACCs last autumn, have made tremendous improvement and it has been a group effort. The Jackets might not routinely place a competitor in the top five spots, but they have regularly have five scoring runners (out of 10) in close proximity to each other.

At the Crimson Classic, for example, Meyer finished 11th with a time of 17:47 in the 5K, and she was followed closely by Townsend (15th, 17:49), sophomore Hayley Keadey (24th), senior Allison Brackin (27th, 18:08) and sophomore Melissa Fairey (39th, 18:17) – in a field of 225 competitors.

Meyer has made notable gains.

Townsend was routinely the Jackets’ top finisher almost since arriving as a freshman in 2011 from Lakeside-Evans High School near Augusta. She was Tech’s top runner in all six cross country events as a sophomore, and all five as a junior.

This fall, however, she’s had familiar company near the front.

While this has been a team effort, Meyer’s improvement stands out.

There were signs in the spring that this was coming, as she set personal records in several track events. Add the fact that Drosky has changed up some of the Jackets’ training methods to bunch runners in ways that push them, mix in the additional hill work and the results have turned upward.

“I believe that last year to this year we’ve really improved as a group,” Meyer said. “Before each race, while we’re warming up, we take a little time to determine our goals . . . knowing that I work out with her during the week. We’re running together more in races than we ever have, and that’s helped.”

The Jackets have been building their race strategies more by pacing themselves off of each other than by running against opponents.

They push and pull each other.

“We’re used to running with each other and we use that in races,” Townsend said. “When you’re already used to running with these people, you look for them. `Oh, there’s my teammate; I can stay with her and we can work together.’ It kind of takes the pressure off you.

“Instead of thinking, `Oh, I need to keep running against everybody else,’ [when] you don’t know how you compare to [competitors]. When you have a big group of people that you typically work out with, you can use that to gauge yourself.”

Drosky and the Jackets hope the extra hill work they’ve put in will pay off at Virginia. They’ve also competed on hillier courses already this fall.

“I think it’s been a tremendous help,” Townsend explained. “Before we might do hills every two weeks, and it wasn’t all out. Now, unless we have a race, we’re going to have a hill workout every week and it’s supposed to be race pace. You’re supposed to be anaerobic. It will help us even more at Virginia.”

Meyer said, “We go to Piedmont Park. We do repeats — race pace up, recovery down and really working on the pace that we need on those hills. Also it helps mentally, too, knowing that when you get to the top of the hill you can’t stop. Cross country is so different than track. It’s not a steady pace.”

The ACC is an extremely competitive cross country conference among men and women, and the Jackets carry different goals into that meet than they will into the South Regional Nov. 14 at Florida State. The South regional is comprised of schools from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Six ACC women’s teams are ranked nationally, led by Florida State at No. 6. Four men’s teams are ranked, led by No. 3 Syracuse.

The Jackets like their chances of improving upon last year, when the women were 12th in the conference and the men were ninth.

“It is a very competitive conference. I expect us to compete better. I think we will show that we’re closing ground,” Drosky said. “That kind of demonstrates the strength of the ACC. If we could crack the top 10 in the conference meet, it would be an outstanding achievement for the women.”

The ACC Championships will be televised on ESPN3 with the women running a 6K at 10 a.m., and the men running an 8K at 10:45.

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