Chemistry drives cross country teams’ success as they prepare for NCAA regional competition

Guilford College women’s cross country first-year Samantha Brown runs at the ODAC Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. //Photo courtesy of Sommer Fanney

The men’s and women’s cross country teams completed their runs at the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championships hosted by Virginia Wesleyan University on Saturday Oct. 28, and the success of the top runners was anything but an individual effort.

The men’s team finished eighth overall at the meet with 250 points, beating out Hampden-Sydney College, Eastern Mennonite University and Randolph College.

The Quakers were led by first-year runner Kieran Arbury, who finished 37th of the 94 runners, clocking a time of 27:35 in the 8K race. He finished three minutes behind Robert Hiegel of Bridgewater College, the individual winner of the race. The Eagles finished in second place with 74 points behind Washington and Lee University, who won the team competition with 27 points.

The team found difficulties transitioning from the typical courses that include areas with hills, which they had trained for all year, to the flatness of Virginia Wesleyan’s course. Pacing was important for the team coming in.

“The way the course is set up, you could really get in trouble if you get out way too fast too early,” said head men’s coach Danny Cash. “The training they have been doing is so strong, (and they needed to adjust to) running flat when they are used to running hills.”

On the women’s side, senior Sommer Fanney led the Quakers with a time 25:32, claiming 44th place of the 94 competitors in the race. The Quakers finished ninth in the league with 278 points. Washington and Lee also won on the women’s side with 34 points, while 74 points from Lynchburg College was good for second.

This was the first cross country ODAC championship for head women’s coach Maria Lindsay. Lindsay will also serve as the head coach of the women’s track and field team.

“Coach Maria is such an energetic, unique individual,” said junior runner Samantha Brooks. “She is so kind-hearted and sees tremendous potential in all of us. I have loved getting to know her, and I look forward to running under her guidance for my final season of cross country.”

Cash, who was the head coach of both teams before Lindsay’s introduction this season, also sees promise in the new coach.

“(Coach Lindsay) is very personable,” said Cash. “She is easy to work with, athletes love her and she has good knowledge in her event areas. She doesn’t have a big background in cross country, so she’s been spending a lot of time learning.

“Being a small coaching staff, we are in cross country season now, but track and field season is starting soon. So we will have track athletes training at the same time as cross country athletes, and so for (Coach Lindsay), coming from a different level where they had split seasons, there’s a lot of time management training for coaches. But she’s done an excellent job.”

Although the sport is competed individually, the amount of emphasis placed on team chemistry by the coaching staff and veteran runners contributes largely to faster times all-around.

“The team bonded very well this year (despite) all the new people coming,” said Cash. “I call the upperclassmen ‘team leaders’ instead of ‘captains.’ They’ve done a wonderful job of helping the younger runners transition. The men’s and women’s teams work together as well.”

The use of “leaders” instead of “captains” is a tool that Cash uses to mold their chemistry and equivalate the runners regardless of talent or experience.

“For me, especially here at Guilford, with the way things are set up with our Quaker values, I like saying leaders because then you’re a part of the team,” said Cash. “’Captains’ implies ‘I’m here while everyone else is below.’ As a coach, I think of my job as teaching rather than simply telling you what to do, and I want our team leaders to do the same.”

Letting the team leaders take the reins at times creates a comfortable atmosphere for younger runners.

“It’s like academics,” said Cash. “You want your first-years to be able to feel comfortable to talk to professors. If your leaders are approachable, the younger runners can feel comfortable enough to come up and talk to them. It builds that mentality and environment that anybody is a leader and anybody can do it.”

The cross country teams return to action Nov. 11, for the NCAA Division III South/Southeast Regionals at Lee Hall Mansion in Newport News, Virginia.