Pack Chases ACC Championships in Blacksburg
Oct. 26, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. - The NC State men's and women's cross country teams will compete in the 2012 ACC Championships at the Virginia Tech Cross Country Course on Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 27. The women's 6K race will start at 10 a.m., followed by the men's 8K competition at 10:50 a.m.
At last year's ACC Championships, NC State placed five runners in the top-17 en route to capturing the men's title for the second time in three years and 16th time in program history, led by the 1-2 finish of Ryan Hill and Andrew Colley. The Wolfpack totaled 51 points, edging second-place Florida State (55) by four points, North Carolina (84) was third while Virginia Tech and Duke tied fourth with 116 points.
In addition to becoming the Pack's 12th ACC individual champion, Hill set a course record, finishing the 8K race in 23:06.1. Colley was just a three seconds off Hill's pace at 23:09.2.
This year, the team is shaped a bit differently, however, and while men's head coach Rollie Geiger understands that, he still has more than enough confidence in his group of runners.
"The expectations are that we are going to run to our capability," Geiger said. "I think if we do that, we're going to put ourselves in a good position in the championship race. I expect NC State to do that."
While observers might be watching closely to see if the Wolfpack can defend its title, Geiger is not one to dwell on the past, but rather focuses on the present.
"To be honest, I've never looked back - I look forward," Geiger stated. "I want this group to have success. What happened in the past is history. It's terrific for the program and the university, but really it's the moment and you want these athletes to take advantage of that."
The men's team will have an added spark to its lineup for the championship race, as redshirt junior Andrew Colley will make his 2012 debut. It's safe to say that the entire program is excited about his return.
"It's obviously great to have Andrew back in the lineup," Geiger said. "It's two-fold. Not only will he add to what he can accomplish, but what happens is the entire team raises their level because Andrew is in the lineup, and I fully expect that to happen."
Redshirt senior Brian Himelright also has his hopes high with Colley's presence, which adds another veteran to the team's lineup.
"I think having Andrew back for this race is going to be a huge boost for us, not only in points, but having him is just going to help the team's mental state," Himelright said. "It'll be exciting having our full lineup running."
The Pack's veteran group would like to make a lasting impression on their legacies as cross country runners at NC State, and Himelright comprehends the fact that it begins with the squad's three redshirt seniors.
"We have a lot of guys that have been here before," Himelright stated. "I think with the experience we have with myself, Patrick Campbell, Andrew Colley, Matt Sonnenfeldt and Bobby Andrews, that's really going to help. We've had rough races and we've rebounded."
It's not only Himelright who knows this is his final ACC Championship, but Geiger also believes a third title in four years would solidify this group as the core of a conference dynasty.
"If you look at our three seniors, all of them have graduated," Geiger said in a reflective tone. "The only reason they came back and continued for their post-graduate degrees was to be a part of this cross country program."
While Campbell and Himelright are in their fifth year as members of the program, there is another senior that cannot be forgotten as a game-changer for the program: Matt Sonnenfeldt.
"We could have redshirted him this year and decided not to because we wanted to put ourselves in position to win a conference championship," Geiger said. "Without Matt, we wouldn't have that opportunity."
Head coach Laurie Henes' women's team will be NC State's first squad to race Saturday morning, and she feels the team is ready for its first championship race of the season.
"This is what we consider to be the start of the championships season," Henes said. "We basically say that the season starts with the ACC Championship. They've had a really good cycle from Wisconsin until now. Our group got a little too far back at Wisconsin, but I think they've learned from that. The ACC Championship is a much more manageable situation for them in terms of seeing what they need to do. "
Not only does Henes think the team has matured since its last outing, but the team may have a small surprise in store for the rest of the field.
"Both of our freshman [Samantha George and Kaitlyn Kramer] were flying at the end of Wisconsin," Henes said emphatically. "They just misjudged it. It was their first ever 6K. We're actually looking at putting some new people in the lineup. We haven't decided who is going to run yet, but we certainly have some upperclassmen that have been in that situation, that we're leaning toward running."
Another key component of the team's goal is sophomore Joanna Thompson, and while she's an underclassman, she realizes the importance of the race.
"Obviously this is a pretty important meet for the entire team and the program. It's a great opportunity, it's exciting and I know we all want to go out there and do our best."
Despite several strong showings thus far in 2012, Thompson may not have tapped into her full potential this year.
"I'm really going to focus on pushing through the middle portion [of the race]. I think sometimes that can get away from me a little bit, but I'm just going to focus on keeping my head in the race and doing all the little things right like getting enough sleep, eating the right foods beforehand and trying not to stress myself out too much."
Henes is a firm believer that Thompson is primed for an exceptional performance on Saturday.
"She wasn't far off the pace of Florida State's lead group at the Notre Dame Invitational," Henes said. "Wisconsin was her weakest race of the year, but that's part of our training cycle. She's a high-mileage athlete, who kept her mileage very high through Wisconsin. She was slightly disappointed in her Wisconsin performance. She should run better and I fully expect her to do that. She learns well when she has a miscalculation like she did at Wisconsin, and she was ready to race again the next day. She's been waiting for this for two weeks now and I think she'll be running close to the front."
The team will need more than a spectacular performance from just Thompson on Saturday, however, as one great finisher does not guarantee the desired team outcome in any cross country race. The rest of the Wolfpack will have to run well, and Thompson, as well as Henes, has confidence that the team can do just that.
"I think as a team, we're in a very good position now in terms of our fitness and where we are mentally as a team," Thompson said. "She's [Henes] really just been stressing having confidence in our abilities because we've put in all the work all season. Coach thinks we're ready and I think we are, too."
In last year's race, the women's team finished in a tie for third place (113 points) with Virginia, behind Florida State, who won the crown for the fourth straight year, and Boston College in second place. Andie Cozzarelli was the Pack's top finisher in eighth place with a 20:37.7 time on the 6K course, followed by Thompson, who crossed the finish line in 12th place with a 20:44.3 clip.