Coming off of a year that was peculiar for sports at all levels, the Virginia men’s and women’s cross country teams will be returning to a clean slate for the 2021 season. Both squads had their share of successes and shortcomings last fall.
After getting off to a strong start in the previous season at the Virginia Invite where the men’s team landed in first place and the women’s in second, the Cavaliers did not meet their expectations in the ACC Championship. Despite the men and women finishing in fourth and seventh, respectively, there were a few silver linings.
Now a senior, Rohann Asfaw placed fourth at the ACC Championship for the men’s side behind runners from Notre Dame and NC State. For the women’s team, the top finisher from Virginia was Hannah Moran who has since graduated.
Heading into the new season, the men’s team features a healthy blend of experience and youth. In total, there will be eight sophomore runners and four juniors, including Bryson Crites and Justin Diehl. In addition to Asfaw, there are three more seniors returning to the team as well as graduate student Ka’eo Kruse.
The case is similar for the women's cross country team, which will be returning five seniors such as Sydney Coppolino and Abbey Green in addition to two graduate students, Michaela Meyer and Georgia Fear. The rest of the lineup will be comprised of four juniors and three sophomores.
Sept. 4: Spider Alumni Open, Richmond, Va.
Sept. 17: Virginia Invitational, Earlysville, Va.
Oct. 1: Notre Dame Invitational, Notre Dame, Ind.
Oct. 15: XC23 Invitational, Earlysville, Va.
Oct. 29: ACC Championship, Notre Dame, Ind.
Nov. 12: NCAA Southeast Regional, Lexington, Ky.
Nov. 20: NCAA Championship, Tallahassee, Fla.
Looking ahead to the upcoming schedule of invitationals and opens for both cross country teams, expect the Cavaliers to show promise in the meets leading up to the conference championship. In prior years, Virginia has performed well in local meets as well as at its home course in Earlysville.
With four invites slated to take place before the ACC Championship, both men’s and women’s teams will have a solid amount of preparation as they go up against other top-tier competitors. From there, the Cavaliers aim to show out on the national stage heading into November where a strong performance at regionals will propel the team to advance to the NCAA Championship.
With this cross country season expected to be a much more normal one with the COVID-19 pandemic having a reduced impact, expectations for both squads are high. With all runners looking to have solid performances in the regular season, the true tests for the men’s and women’s teams will begin in the ACC Championship.
Last time around in the conference competition, it was Asfaw, senior Harry Monroe and sophomore Wes Porter who finished in the top 25 for Virginia. Now graduated, Randy Neish additionally had a strong showing with an eighth-place finish. With the departure of Neish, the men’s side will have to look for someone to step up and fill the void.
The potential lies with runners such as Crites and Diehl who will have an opportunity to make strides of improvement to their previous performances last season. If the Cavaliers manage to do well at the conference level, the stakes will be even higher heading into regionals with a chance to qualify for nationals.
For the women, Moran and Kiera Bothwell, both of whom have graduated, were the top finishers at the ACC Championship for Virginia. However, with the returns of Meyer and Green, the door is open for the women’s squad to make improvements.
Look out for a number of junior runners as well as sophomores such as Liza Neely who will look to make their mark at the conference meet in late October. Similar to the men, the women hope for a strong showing among their ACC foes to catapult them into regionals and the NCAA Championship.