Oct. 27, 2011
By Jon Cooper
In most sports, how a team competes during the regular season can offer a hint of what to expect in postseason.
Cross country isn’t like most sports.
“Cross Country is somewhat unique in that the regular season “record” really has no bearing on the conference standings,” said Georgia Tech men’s and women’s cross country head coach Alan Drosky. “It comes down to how you race on that one day. So, your schedule through the season is structured to help you prepare for that one day.
“It’s an important meet that to a large extent defines how your season goes,” he added. “I feel like the preparation and the training that’s been put in, everything has gone as we would have wanted it to. Everything has gone as we planned it.”
The teams can put those plans into action Saturday at the ACC Cross Country Championships, taking place on the Musser Farms Course in Clemson, S.C. The Men’s 8K race begins at 10:00 a.m., with the Women’s 6K to follow at 11:00.
The men springboard into the ACCs from their victorious performance at the Crimson Classic, held in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Jackets ran a combined 2:07:54.98, more than a minute ahead of the nearest competition (Auburn came in at 2:09:03.5).
Junior Patrick Barron led Tech with a 25:10.33, good for fifth overall. Fellow junior Shawn Roberts (25:30.12) finished 10th, and senior DJ McMillan was 19th at 25:34.24. Sophomore Alec Clifford (25:48.06) was 23rd, and junior Niall Longobardi (25:52.23) was 26th. Tech might have done even better, but junior Obiandu Igwe was unable to finish the race due to a foot injury.
“To win was certainly a confidence booster,” said Drosky. “It gives them some great momentum going into the conference meet. The ACC is a little bit stronger in Cross Country than the SEC is and so it was great to win that meet. I feel like we won but we didn’t have a great day so I feel like we can run even better.”
“Tuscaloosa, a lot of people had a really good day. A couple of people still didn’t have a good day,” agreed McMillan. “I didn’t have my best day. I know another one of our potential top five guys didn’t even finish the race. So considering that, we were pretty excited because we weren’t even be at full strength. We ran great as a team. We executed what we were supposed to do well, with our pace and just did what we were supposed to do. You do stuff like that it always ends up well.”
With everyone expected at full strength, Drosky will be looking for someone to step up as a solid No. 4 and 5 to build on the efforts of McMillan, Barron and Roberts. Top candidates are Longobardi, Igwe, Clifford and senior Joe Fulton.
“I’m going to have a handful that have the capability and have already come through with some solid efforts,” he said. “That group behind those first three, they’ve just been a little inconsistent and so it’s kind of varied from week to week. Hopefully from amongst those four we’ll find two that can — hopefully all four but certainly two — that can give us a good strong fourth and fifth.”
The women have been leaning on each other all fall, forced to come together by an injury to senior Mary Kate DuBard, an All-South Region Teamer in 2010, who has been unable to compete all season due to plantar fasciitis. DuBard will not compete Saturday.
“Hopefully we can make up for missing Mary Kate some with some good depth that we have right now,” Drosky said. “We have a group of five that has been preparing all season long. Some of them have been a little bit fragile in the past dealing with injury problems we’ve held them out of a number of competitions so we could make sure that we have them healthy and ready to go. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
In seniors Mary Kownack, Betsy Kim, and Maureen McMeekin, promising freshman Katie Townsend, a junior transfer, Katie Vance, Drosky has “a very solid top five.” He is looking for others to step up this weekend.
“Beyond those five is a group of four freshmen and a junior who are really coming along really well,” he said. “So we’re looking to execute good race plans and run well and then we’ll see where that puts us in the finish at the end of the day.”
In addition to experienced upperclassmen, Tech has an advantage of having experience on the Musser Farms course, having run it in the Clemson Invitational on Sept. 16. The men finished sixth (fourth among ACC teams), at 2:05:29.19, with Barron (24:41.72, 11th), McMillan (24:44.77, 13th) and Roberts (24:47.51, 19th) finishing in the top 20. The women were seventh at 1:55:54.02 (fifth among ACC teams competing). Vance led Tech that day at 22:44.22, good for 39th. Townsend was not far behind her at 22:47.38, good for 42nd.
“Oh yeah, there’s a huge advantage,” said McMillan. “If you’re in a race on a course you’re racing the first time, you start hurting and you’re wondering, ‘Oh, how much longer do I have?’ [Familiarity] allows you to put away the negative feelings because you know what you’ve got left. It’s invaluable. [The course has] got a couple of big hills, so you know, ‘I’ve you’ve got one more time on that hill, I can relax a little after this, then push it again.'”
Having had success on the course also helps.
“We had a good day and most of the kids had good races the first time we were there,” said Drosky. “So having that positive feeling from the course is important. If you have somebody that is starting with a little bit of confidence, it can make a difference. Every athlete is going through some mental rehearsals and visualization as they prepare mentally. To have a vivid picture of what that course is like makes that even more effective.”
If you believe in symbolism, Georgia Tech could be in even better shape, as the course runs through a peach orchard. Drosky laughed and said he can get behind such symbolism, at least for this weekend.
“Being from the Peach State I hope that gives us a little bit of an extra edge,” he said.