Nov. 15, 2010
By Jon Cooper
There may well have been a point over the past weekend when Mary Kate DuBard considered risking family ties and friendships by becoming a fan of Vanderbilt and Georgia.
DuBard, who was born and raised in Rock Hill, S.C., has family ties to Tennessee football, as an uncle played for the Vols and a cousin currently does. As far as the latter, is there really need to specify how rooting for UGA goes over at Georgia Tech?
But this selling out of loyalties would have been understandable and quite acceptable, as had either SEC school received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, DuBard also would have qualified to compete.
She had already sold out, running a valiant race, in which she finished 13th overall in a time of 20:32.24. It was her career-best for a 6K.
“Mary Kate ran an outstanding race to give herself a shot at an at-large berth to next week’s NCAA Championships,” said head coach Alan Drosky. The top four finishers from non-qualifying schools received at-large bids. In Saturdays Southeast Regionals, Florida State and Florida earned automatic bids. The two teams accounted for eight of the 12 spots above DuBard, who finished about seven seconds behind Vandy’s Jordan White, who came in 11th. Georgia’s Kristie Krueger finished first overall.
Hope for a bid still flickered, that either Vanderbilt, which finished third in the meet, or Georgia, which was fourth, would get in. But the NCAA did not offer either school a bid.
It was a heart-breaking sight for DuBard, who has personified heart all three seasons on The Flats. She knew going into Saturday that she would have an uphill climb, but felt that she and the team were ready to give it a good run.
“I think we’re at the right point where we’re ready to peak,” she said a couple of days before the team headed out to Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala. “I always wish I was a little better, had done a little better here and there, but I think this is definitely the best shape in all my years at Tech.”
DuBard ran as well as she ever had. For the third straight season she set the pace for the Yellow Jackets in every race and chalked up her first career win in the Georgia Dual.
It was a nice bounce-back season from what Drosky called “a sophomore slump.”
“If you look at her performances last year as a sophomore, they weren’t bad, by any means, but they were off from what she was capable of,” he explained. “It wasn’t until the regional meet last year that she ran a race that we felt like was, ‘Okay, that’s the Mary Kate that we are used to.’
“She’s had a great season this whole year,” he continued. “We looked at Mary Kate from the time we started recruiting her until she was new in our program as somebody we felt could be a national qualifier and someone who would go into a regional meet and have a realistic expectation of qualifying for the nationals. She’s at that point. It’s a tall task. Hopefully she can get it done.”
DuBard, who credited increasing her mileage during training as a big reason for her success this season, had finished 23rd in the ACCs, and knew what she needed to do to compete well at the Regionals.
“I need to push myself harder in the middle of the race,” she said. “I think the race is going to go out fast. I just need to not get complacent during the middle of the race and keep pushing through it because at the end it’s going to hurt the same either way. I’ve got to mentally be strong and tough during the race.”
Drosky had hoped the women’s team might finish in the top 10, but was okay with the team’s 15th-place finish, also had a clear goal for DuBard.
“I’d like to have a career-best effort,” he said. “If the course is more difficult, it might not be a career-best time, but we certainly hope for a career-best effort. I’d rather have a national-qualifying performance [than a career-best].”
Drosky got DuBard’s career-best time and a career-best effort. That may not have been enough this time, but she has one more season to try and get to Nationals and plenty of fight to make it happen.
“She’s a tough competitor,” said Drosky. “She’s, I wouldn’t say an aggressive competitor, kind of more introspective but she demands a lot from herself, she expects to achieve a lot, she recognizes that she has a good level of talent and she wants to take it as far as she can.”
“She’s a great leader by example,” he added. “I hope that every young woman looks at Mary Kate, sees how focused she is in everything she does, how hard she works and aspires to reach the level she’s at.”
Next year, hopefully that level can include an NCAA berth.