Emory University men’s cross country lead the way at the Converse Kickoff where they placed first. (Courtesy of Daniel McCauley)

This season, Emory University men’s and women’s cross country teams aim to build off their previous success. Last season, the men’s team won the 2022 University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship for the first time in program history and placed 21st at the 2022 Division III NCAA Championship, while the women placed 25th. Both teams look to build off of that finish and place even higher this season.

At the start of this season, the teams finished first in the Converse Kickoff meet held in Spartanburg, S.C. on Sept. 16. The women are ranked 19th and the men 21st in the Division III polls, as of Sept. 25.

Senior Tristan Olpin said that the team “take a lot of pride” in what they have accomplished last season and wants to maintain the momentum they have built leading into the current season. Despite losing many of the team’s top senior runners to graduation, Olpin is confident in their ability to go all in and build on last year’s UAA championship performance.

“Of our top seven, we have like two people returning,” Olpin said. “It’s going to be hard to keep the momentum in that way, but … a lot of people feel that power vacuum and are trying to step up and are trying to carry that momentum.”

Olpin expressed faith in the underclassmen’s ability to fill the shoes the outgoing seniors left behind. Senior Lily Taylor echoed Olpin but noted that many of the team’s top runners from last season are now catalysts for the women’s team.

“Five of our top seven are still here,” Taylor said. “Having the experience running at these really big meets is huge, like nationals is a huge meet compared to anything … you might run in high school, so I think  having a team with a lot of returners can help out with that.” 

Taylor also noted that the seven freshmen runners have all been great additions, adding “a lot of depth” to the team.

Both runners elaborated on the importance of a strong team culture and how it has played a role in their success throughout their collegiate careers. For Taylor, the team’s culture has been her favorite aspect of being on the team and has allowed her to call her teammates “family.”

Olpin said that he receives “a lot of fulfillment in knowing that your friends are there with you” throughout the challenging times during training. 

At the Converse Kickoff, strong performances from freshman Kirin Karver (25:19.7) and Olin Gilster (25:31.0) propelled the men’s team to victory. On the women’s side, graduate student Brigid Hanley (21:52.0), sophomore Luna McCauley (22:57.7) and Katherine Kennedy (23:12.1) all earned top-10 finishes.

For their upcoming Sept. 30 meets, the Paul Short Run and the Berry College Cross Country Invitational, one of the team’s preparation strategies is using Strava to scout out opponents, according to Olpin.

“All of us upload our running up on Strava,” Olpin said. “You can see what other athletes are doing on Strava with their training … You can see people’s mindsets, which might be seem like a small thing, but if you go into a race, or a workout, thinking negatively about how you might perform in general, that can affect how you perform even if just a little bit, so having an optimistic outlook is very important and you can pick that up from some of your competitors.”

Having trained and competed in friendly races against other local college teams such as Kennesaw State University (Ga.) and Georgia Institute of Technology over the summer with the team, Taylor said she is “excited” for the season ahead.

“We ran all summer long,” Taylor said. “It’s a really long season, and it’s nice to see months of hard work come to fruition with your teammates, especially [since] a lot of us have to train on our own over the summer. Coming together, training together and also racing together, it’s a special thing.

The women’s team poses after placing first in the Converse Kickoff. They enter the Paul Short Run and Berry College Invitational ranked 19th in the nation. (Courtesy of Daniel McCauley)

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Samir Ajy (he/him) (24C) is from Atlanta, Georgia and is majoring in political science on a pre-law track. In his free time, Samir enjoys watching sports, playing ultimate frisbee and watching comedy-based movies.