TIM PEELER: Men's Cross Country Hopes to Lead Pack at ACC Championship
BY TIM PEELER
It was that the team didn’t race well, perhaps, some of the veterans say, because of an overall lack of confidence that came with having three of the program’s top runners sitting out last season as redshirts.
“We didn’t have the confidence in the program as much as we should have,” said fifth-year senior Bryce Ruiz. “But there was so much focus on what we were missing, that it was kind of disappointing when people said ‘Ah, next year, they'll get those people back,’ and were completely forgetting who we had on the team then.”
Heading into this weekend’s ACC Men’s Cross Country Championship in Charlottesville, Va., however, the core runners from last year’s team have improved to match or exceed the contributions of the three runners that were missing last year – two-time All-ACC selection Wesley Smith, 2004 ACC Freshman of the Year Gavin Coombs and All-American Bobby Mack. The Wolfpack enters the event as the nation's ninth-ranked team, one spot behind conference-foe Florida State.
Mack, Smith and Coombs are back this year, but what has pleased Wolfpack head coach Rollie Geiger, now in his 25th season as the head coach of the NC State cross country program, is that other runners like Ruiz, juniors John Crews, Stephen Furst and Tibor Veigh have all matched or exceeded what the Missing Three have done this year.
“I think the guys who didn’t race last year are still playing a little catch-up,” Geiger said. “The guys who did race last year are now racing at a different level. I fully expect Wesley and Gavin to race at that higher level too.”
The result has been a tightly running pack, no pun intended. At the Pre-National meet two weeks ago in Terre Haute, Ind., the Wolfpack’s top seven runners finished just 21 seconds apart, with Veigh finishing 23rd in the individual competition with a time of 24:08, with Ruiz at 24:09, Furst at 24:13, junior John Crews at 24:17 and Smith at 24:23 close behind.
“We are running very well in terms of the spread in seconds of our team,” Geiger said. “That is key in cross country. What we have to do is get that pack running a little ahead of the other top runners in the field. A key for us would be to run better up front.”
First, however, Geiger would like to see his team contend for its 14th conference title in school history, something that didn’t happen last year.
“We ran poorly – period,” Geiger said. “We could have easily finished third off of a good race, but we didn’t race well that day. That’s what I found disappointing the most. It wasn’t the fact that we didn’t win; it was that we didn’t run well. We started running well at regionals, but unfortunately we missed going to the nationals by three points.
“It was a year where we didn’t run our top races soon enough, to be honest with you. I think this year’s team is terrific. I kind of tweaked our training a little bit this year and they have responded well to it.”
And they will get the chance to prove it this weekend in Charlottesville. After a year of living with last year’s disappointment, the entire team is eager to step up to the line and force everyone else to catch up to the Pack.
“I think everybody is ready,” said Crews, who earned all-conference and all-region honors and was the team’s lead runner last season. “All it takes is one or two of us to have a great day and the rest of us to have a good day, which is still a great day by a lot of people’s standards, and hopefully we can pull it off this weekend.”
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.
U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association
Division I men's cross country poll
Oct. 17, 2006
(First-place votes listed in parenthesis, followed by point totals of each team)
4. UTEP (1) 391
5. Stanford 390
12. Notre Dame 267
13. UC Santa Barbara 266
21. BYU 147
24. Cal Poly SLO 125
Also receiving votes: