2019 men’s and women’s cross country preview

The Cavaliers kick-off cross country season on Aug. 30 at the Liberty Challenge in Lynchburg, Va.


The women's cross country team finished 9th at the ACC Championships last year.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

Virginia men’s and women’s cross country begins another season with high anticipation. Both teams are returning after a disappointing postseason last fall — both men’s and women’s teams failed to place in the top two at the ACC Championships and NCAA Southeast Regional. That said, individually, one member from each team qualified to run at the national meet in Madison, Wis. — graduate student Brent Demarest and then-freshman Abbey Green. With the 2019 cross country season fast approaching, it’s time to preview both squads. 

The men’s side loses only two runners — Demarest and Connor Hendrickson. The team is experienced with seven seniors. Under Coach Jason Dunn’s system, the men’s team looks primed to improve and contend at both the conference and national level.

The women’s team’s core remains the same with a few new additions. The majority of runners are sophomores and juniors accompanied by senior Maryanna Lansing and graduate student Haley Yost. After a rebuilding season the previous year, the women are similarly positioned to finish better than 9th at the ACC Championships and 6th at the NCAA Southeast Regional.


Aug. 30: Liberty Challenge, Lynchburg, Va.

Sep. 14: Cavalier Classic, Earlysville, Va.

Sep. 27: Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational, Earlysville, Va.

Oct. 18: Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational (Men only), Madison, Wis.

Oct. 19: Under Armour Pre-National Invitational (Women only), Terre Haute, Ind.

Nov. 1:  ACC Championships, Blacksburg, Va.

Nov. 15: NCAA Southeast Regional, Earlysville, Va.

Nov. 23: NCAA Championship, Terre Haute, Ind.

The first three meets of the season look promising for Virginia. Entering with low stakes, the Cavaliers get to compete locally and twice at their home course. Through the weekend of Oct. 18-19, Virginia will have completed the bulk of their training. The Nuttycombe Invite and Pre-Nationals will be their first real tests, where they will get a chance to face the top teams from across the nation. By the time November rolls around, the Cavaliers should have had enough preparation to compete successfully in the postseason.


Men: Bryson Crites, Justin Diehl, Jacob Hunter, Ali Ibrahim, Davis Young, Ethan Zeh

Women: Natalie Bardach, Coco Holliday, Emma Myer, Alahna Sabbakhan

Dunn and women’s Coach Megan Lavoie were able to find athletes who matched or exceeded the competitive D1 standard. For men, the times are 4:20 in the mile and 9:20 in the two mile. For girls, the times are 5:00 in the mile and 11:00 in the two mile.

Freshman Jacob Hunter stands out for his successful individual and team accomplishments as a cross country and track and field athlete at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, Va. He has a 4:13.75 mile, 1:55.14 800m and a 9:12.64 two mile. Hunter is a three-time Virginia state champion and assisted his cross country team in winning Nike Cross Nationals in 2017 and 2018.


The key to success for the two teams is consistent, healthy training to allow the athletes to peak for the postseason. A steady, reliable and battle-tested top seven should also be established by November.

For the men, without Demarest, seniors Ari Klau, Alex Corbett, AJ Ernst, Spencer Dodds and Matthew Novak are going to have to work together during the races to give each individual the best chance. Ernst, Klau and Corbett will most likely lead the team as the top three runners. All three finished in the top 25 at the 2018 NCAA Southeast Regional. The next four runners are a bit uncertain as of now, but by the end of September, a better picture of the Cavalier lineup will be formed.

The fastest runner on the women’s side returns. Green was the only athlete on the women’s side to advance to nationals in 2018 and placed 95th overall. In order for the team to have success, Green will have to push the other runners to join her at the front. Athletes such as sophomore Emma Wolcott, sophomore Helena Lindsay and junior Kiera Bothwell must make the jump to about 20 minutes for their 6K time.

Mark your calendars — the NCAA Southeast Regional, Nov. 15 at Panorama Farms, determines if the Cavaliers advance or get sent home. The top two teams overall advance to the national meet on Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind. With the men’s team’s painful third place finish last year fresh in their minds, they will be gunning to secure a position atop the podium. The women’s team will look to crack the top five and advance more individuals than the previous year.

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