Oct. 25, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Every teamswants to be at its best come conference championships. But that’s an ideal easier said than done.
When it does happen, however, there is no better feeling.
Georgia Tech women’s cross country has that feeling right now.
The Yellow Jackets are confident they’re hitting their stride at just the right time as they head to E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Ky., for this Friday’s ACC Cross Country Championships. Official starting time is 11:03 a.m. and the race can be seen on the ACC Network and can be tracked online on Ramblinwreck.com.
“There’s so much positive energy on our team right now,” said junior Mary Prouty, who has finished first or second for the Jackets in all but one meet over the last two years. “My roommate, (sophomore) Mary Claire (Solomon), keeps talking about how much she wants to go to Nationals, and that kind of positive energy really helps us keep going in that direction.”
That direction is upward in the national standings, especially following their most recent meet, at the Alabama Crimson Classic, where Tech ran and hid from the competition that included such powerhouses as ACC rival and No. 3 Florida State, No. 6 Auburn, No. 7 Alabama and No. 29 Mississippi State. The Jackets not only won, but did so by 50 points. They were rewarded by landing eight votes in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) poll the following Tuesday.
“It was huge because going into that meet we didn’t think we were going to beat a lot of those teams. We were just trying to get up there. When we found we won, we crushed them, we were like, ‘Whoa, I guess we do have a shot,’” said senior Hailey Gollnick, who finished third in Alabama. “Coming in (to ACCs) we’re ranked 35th in the nation, which is incredible. It’s been a long time (since we’ve been ranked). A lot of people in the Athletic Association are talking about it. It’s really fun and exciting.”
“It’s great,” said junior Amy Ruiz, who led Tech in the Crimson Classic. “I guess you would say it’s a little unexpected but we definitely are proud that we do have votes, especially since we ran such a strong race in Alabama. It’s great news to hear that our hard work is paying off. Hopefully we’ll get even more votes and get higher in the rankings after ACCs.”
This wave of momentum the Yellow Jackets are riding might be unexpected to some but head coach Alan Drosky believes it hasn’t come out of nowhere.
“I think it’s the kind of season we thought we could have,” said Drosky, in his 25th season as head coach of the program. “You go into every season with high hopes and optimism but just knowing what some of the women did last year on the track, some of the big improvements that they made in their track events, how that would carry over to cross country, and then knowing some of the individuals that we had coming in, like the freshman Nicole Fegans, that would have an impact right away, we thought we could be a pretty talented team.
“I think what has taken it from being a season of high hopes and optimism to where we’re actually competing at a much higher level is that the women started to take ownership of the team and really commit to doing all the things that you have to do to make improvements and compete at this level,” he added. “So, development-wise, the women were moving in this direction but really it’s just the culture of the team and how they’ve come together and kind of taken ownership of the season that is starting to really show right now.”
The Jackets’ co-ownership can be seen in every race. They run together and have basically assigned themselves roles.
“We all run very different styles but we help each other. For example, I go out really fast and then I die,” Ruiz said, with a laugh. “Then Mary will come, pass me at some point and I’ll stick on to her. Then Hailey tries to get right there behind me and tries to stick with me. It’s just a great dynamic. We work together while we run. Even if we’re not running right next to each other, as long as we’re seeing each other we’re still working together during the race.”
These roles have come over time and with familiarity.
“It’s each one of them maturing as a collegiate athlete, understanding their strengths and their weaknesses, and then how they need to race in order to run their best race,” said Drosky. “Amy runs well when she’s very aggressive, gets out front, gets up to the lead. Mary doesn’t quite have Amy’s speed, so she knows she can’t get out quite that aggressively but she’s got a lot of strength so she kind of keeps it steady in the middle. It’s worked well where they have kind of found themselves at some point in the race, maybe two-thirds into the race, and then kind of push each other to the finish. But a lot of that is just them maturing as individual competitors.”
Their maturity has helped Fegans, who won her collegiate debut in the Jacksonville State Opener, and the talented freshman class — which saw Kristin Fairey, Gabrielle Gusmerotti, Corson Teasley and Sam Costa earn top-five finishes at the Jacksonville State Foothills Invitational — adjust to college competition (6K races up from 5K in high school) and contribute.
“She’s been a great addition,” said Ruiz of Fegans. “She came in up with the top-tier group so it’s been great having her there to kind of push us, to make us go faster in races and workouts. It’s good to also have a freshman there that we can help her and guide her in the right direction to make her a better runner as well.”
Gollnick feels this working together to make each other better illustrates this taking ownership of the team.
“Our coach doesn’t give captains. He just lets us figure out our leadership on our own,” she said. “We all have little leadership roles on the team, like some people are good at getting people ready for races and getting everyone in the right mindset. Some people are good at bringing the team together as friends, stuff like that. It’s great. We all have leadership roles and it works our really well.”
It’s working quite well heading into ACCs.
“We’ve progressed a lot compared to where we were last year so we’re hoping to beat a lot more teams than we did last year, place high in ACCs,” said Ruiz. “It’s a fast course, so we were at a very fast course in Pennsylvania (at the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa.) and lots of us almost tied or even beat our P.R.s (Personal Record) in Alabama, which was a tougher course. So it would be great for us all to get new P.R.’s on this fast course in Louisville.”
Getting a national ranking also would be great.
“It obviously would be huge for the program,” said Drosky. “For me, it’s just very rewarding to see a group of women — and I think the men are right there with the women. I believe they both have great opportunities — to see the work that they’ve done and to see them take ownership of the team, and see how that’s taking it to a whole other level.”
“I’d hope to even improve the legacy of this year more so,” said Ruiz. “Maybe getting our ranking higher or having success running ACCs or Regionals or even potentially being one of the teams that makes it to Nationals. That would be an even greater legacy to leave than just 35th.”
The Jackets are fired up and ready to leave that legacy.
“I’m so pumped. A lot of good things have been happening this season,” said Prouty. “Our team has really come together this year. We are more of a pack that can back each other up. We just want to keep the ball rolling. I think we can do it, do big things at conference.”
“I’ve run with this team for four years and we’ve done alright in the past few seasons but not where we’ve wanted to be,” said Gollnick. “We’re finally at a place where we can do well and it’s really exciting. ACCs is one of the best meets of the year because we get to see a bunch of people we know and teams we race against all the time. Going in with such good momentum is nice and exciting.”