Both the Emory men’s and women’s cross country teams took home first place for the White Division, composed of NCAA Division II and III and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools, during the Jacksonville State University (Ala.) Foothills Invitational Sept. 30. Saturday’s race was the Eagles’ final competition before the top 10 runners on each team are selected to participate in Pre-Nationals Oct. 14.
Emory scorched the opposition, topping a field of more than 20 teams. The women’s team finished No. 1 with an average 5K time of 18:47. That time was more than a minute faster than No. 2-finisher Blue Mountain College (Miss.).
For the third time in three races this season, senior captain Gabrielle Stravach placed as Emory’s top runner. She finished No. 1 overall, besting 250 other runners, including those representing Division I schools such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Lipscomb University (Tenn.). Stravach nearly posted her first sub-18 minute time, finishing her 5K in 18 minutes and three seconds.
Stravach said that she had mixed emotions in regard to her finish.
“I broke my personal record, so I was really excited,” Stravach said. “However, I was really hoping to break that 18-minute mark.”
Reflecting on Stravach’s time, Head Coach John Curtin said that Stravach had a cramp, which likely prevented her from finishing in under 18 minutes.
“I felt bad for [Stravach] because she came so close to breaking 18 minutes,” Curtin said. “She got a bit of a cramp with about 1,200 meters to go and it just took the edge off her a little bit.”
Juniors Maeve Andrews and Kaylee Slade, freshman Abby Durfee and sophomore Meredith Hughes joined Stravach among Emory’s top five runners on the day. Each runner finished within the top 10 of all 181 White Division runners.
Stravach raved about her teammates’ performance.
“I was impressed by how a lot of the girls on our team rose to the occasion,” Stravach said. “We had a decent amount of 5K personal records, and we don’t usually get to race 5Ks, so that was a big deal for a lot of the girls.”
Curtin was impressed with the women’s team, noting that eight runners finished with personal best times.
“That was really encouraging especially on a day when the course wasn’t running very fast,” Curtain said.
Emory’s men’s team also had a strong day, finishing No. 1 with an average 8K time of 26:28. Like the women, their time was more than a minute faster than the No. 2 team, Tennessee Wesleyan University.
For the second time this season, sophomore Marty Pimentel ran a team-best time. Pimentel finished the race with a time of 26:09.80. With top five finishes in all three of his races thus far, Pimentel has made a name for himself as one of Emory’s top runners.
Pimentel said that he was pleased with his fitness and feels set for more success moving forward.
“I am about as fit as I’d want to be for right now,” Pimentel said. “It was a pretty good evaluation of where I hope to be for Pre-Nationals in the upcoming weeks.”
Spurring Pimentel’s success was the Foothills course, which played to many of his strengths as a runner.
“This course really favored [Pimentel] because he’s a big, tall kid with long strides,” Curtin said. “On flat courses like this he’s probably going to be our top guy.”
Along with Pimentel, sophomore Luis Torres, junior Bennett Shaw, senior Shane Sullivan and sophomore Sam Branson rounded out Emory’s top five runners. All five of the athletes were among the top 10 White Division runners in the meet.
Looking to upcoming meets, Pimental emphasized the importance of maintaining strong tactics to ensure the team’s future success.
“It’s important to control the pace,” Pimentel said. “This is key because this week we showed how well we can do when we have control of the race.”
Curtin said that the team was most interested with how they were doing rather than focusing on the competition.
“We were most concerned with how our team was running and performing at this time,” Curtin said. “It is always fun to win, but we wanted to test ourselves on what has historically been a pretty fast course.”
The Eagles will select the top 10 runners from each team to compete in Pre-Nationals Oct. 14. Both the men’s and women’s teams currently have more than 30 runners each. The runners not selected to run at Pre-Nationals will run in the Berry Invitation at Berry College (Ga.) Oct. 14.