Runners brace for home open meet
With top performers resting after last week’s ACC Championships, young talents look to seize chance
The Virginia cross country team Saturday hosts the Virginia-Panorama Farms Cross Country Open at Panorama Farms. The meet provides runners who did not compete in the ACC Championships a final chance to compete at home.
Though neither squad will field its best seven, the runners and coaches are not treating this weekend as a bye week. Both teams value the meet as a final tune-up for next week’s Southeast Regional Championships.
“The next few weeks will be used for sharpening up,” graduate student Catherine White said. “We will do some faster interval type sessions to keep our legs use to race pace. We really just try to stay race ready and maintain fitness levels.”
Saturday’s race features a small field of teams. Virginia, Georgetown and Liberty will enter both men’s and women’s teams. James Madison and Vanderbilt will bring only their women’s squads.
The No. 21 Cavalier men made a triumphant return to the national rankings after a second-place finish at the ACC Championships. They can expect stiff competition from the No. 24 Hoyas this Saturday. Liberty, ranked No. 13 in the Southeast Region, is also capable of challenging Virginia.
The nationally unranked women’s team faces an even stiffer task. The Commodores fell five votes shy of a national ranking and are currently slated third in the South Region behind powerhouses No. 1 Florida State and No. 14 Florida. James Madison sits two spots below Virginia at eighth in the Southeast Region rankings.
Of the marquee Virginia runners resting this weekend, graduate student Mark Amirault may benefit most from a week free of competition. The Princeton transfer finished 30th at the ACC Championships, his first race this season, but showed signs of rust from his prolonged absence from competition.
“He has not trained nearly as much as the rest of the team and is nowhere near his full potential,” sophomore Kyle King said. “He is glad that he is moving in the right direction of health and fitness. He will be a big asset to this team in regionals and nationals.”
Amirault can look to White’s progress for encouragement. In her third race after returning from injury, White won silver at the ACC Championships with a six-kilometer time of 20:06.
“I have been feeling stronger and sharper each race,” White said. “I hope to keep the upward trajectory going, and I think I have some faster performances in me.”
Saturday’s race will showcase Virginia’s up-and-coming talent. Some Cavaliers may use this meet to boost their chances of joining the top seven next season.
“The meet will be a great opportunity for them,” King said. “They have not really had a chance to race this season.”
Many of Virginia’s expected stars for beyond 2012 are already excelling at the highest level of competition. At the ACC Championships, King finished fifth with an eight-kilometer time of 23:51.3 in his first year of cross-country competition. True freshman Connor Rog received the honor of ACC Freshman of the Year for his 18th-place effort. This youthful contribution helped Virginia finish six points behind champion No. 17 Virginia Tech.
“I believe that having younger runners on the team is a great advantage,” King said. “We help to score points this year, and will also be able to contribute for several more seasons.”
Those athletes competing at the Virginia-Panorama Farms Open should expect the full support of their teammates moving on to regionals next week. “It gives some of my teammates an opportunity to close out their season on the home cross in front of a familiar crowd,” White said. “I will certainly be there cheering them on.”
The women’s five-kilometer race will start at 10 a.m.. The men’s five-kilometer race will follow at 10:30.