Last competing November 2016, Emory’s men’s and women’s cross country teams have worked diligently during the offseason to prepare to take flight their first meet of the 2017 season.
Both the men’s and women’s squads enjoyed successful seasons in the Southeast Region in 2016. The men finished third overall in the Southeast, earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III National Championships, and the women won the regional title in the Southeast, qualifying for an automatic bid to Nationals.
Despite falling short of the top of the University Athletic Association (UAA) in 2016, Head Coach John Curtin emphasized that, while UAA competition is a focus, first priority lies with the Eagles’ regional competitors.
“Our main goal is to win regionals,” Curtin said. “If we can’t win regionals, we want to at least finish in a position where we could finish high enough to qualify for nationals.”
A new season is on the horizon, but there is still a hint of bitterness left over from last year’s final results: Curtain had hoped for better outcomes on a national level last year, especially on the women’s side.
“The women’s team was definitely a top-20 caliber team last year,” Curtin said. “However, our team fell off a bit in our fifth person, as the top five runners on your team count towards your score.”
This season, the team hopes to find some consistency and regularly field five successful runners rather than only relying on the team’s top runner.
With the season yet to begin, Curtin said that it’s too early for the coaching staff to predict if both teams will have the improved depth to outperform last year’s team.
“It is hard to be really sure of what we have right now,” Curtin said. “We have lost some terrific seniors so we will need new runners to step up.”
This year, the Eagles will field their “largest team ever,” according to Curtin. The men’s team has 31 members, including five seniors, and the women’s team has 29, with four seniors. The addition of 14 and 11 members to the men’s and women’s team, respectively, gives the Eagles several new runners to put into meets this year.
Senior Gabrielle Stravach, Emory’s top runner in all seven of her races in 2016, expressed her excitement about the larger team.
“We usually have our strongest teams when we have a lot of girls on it,” Stravach said. “Having a lot of girls creates a positive atmosphere, and we work better as team when there are more of us.”
Senior Shane Sullivan and junior Bennett Shaw return to the Eagles as two of the men’s team’s top runners. Sullivan was deemed Emory’s most improved runner in the 2016 season, recording a personal best 8K time of 25:38 at the Division III Championships. He was also No. 3 on the team at the UAA Championships and the Furman Classic.
Shaw, one of Emory’s top five runners in six of his seven races last year, posted a personal best 8K time of 25:50 at the UAA Championships and finished second among Emory runners at the Furman Classic.
On the women’s side, Stravach comes into the season as one of the squad’s top runners. Curtin praised Stravach as one of his best female competitors.
“[Stravach] is the lead dog,” Curtin said. “She’s talented, she works hard and everyone looks up to her and respects her.”
Last season, Stravach posted a career-best 6K time of 21:33, achieved second-team all-UAA honors and posted Emory records at Nationals and the UAA Championships.Stravach said that she attributes the success of her breakout year to preparation and diligence. She hopes that her success motivates her teammates.
“Our sport is the type of sport where you get out of it what you put into it,” Stravach said. “I hope this helps the other girls work harder and stay determined to get to where they want to be.”
Stravach and the rest of the women’s and men’s cross country teams will have the opportunity to demonstrate just how much work they’ve put into this offseason, with the teams’ first meet Friday, Sept. 1, in the Watermelon Run at Mount Berry (Ga.).