The Captains expected tough challenges from Shenandoah's squads and got them. The men prevailed, but the women suffered only their second loss in conference history to a Hornet's team that had the race of their lives.
For the third consecutive year, the upstart Hornets of Shenandoah arrived in Greensboro confident that they could finally dethrone the Captains. For the third consecutive year, the Captains stepped up to the challenge and and put seven finishers in the top ten to continue their reign over the USA South Conference. Due to a Conference rule enforced at the Championships, only Ferrum, Shenandoah, and CNU had enough eligible competitors to register team scores. Ferrum's first arrival came long after the race was decided 22-37 to the Captains over the Hornets.
By the 800m mark, it was clear that two teams were going to dominate the race and Shenandoah made a great effort to keep their top four in the mix. They soon realized that the pressure Corey Lofton (Vienna, VA) was applying at the front was equaled by the next eleven Captains all running in front of their #5. On a weaving section of the course just past the mile marker, frustration and panic was starting to show on the Hornets' faces and in their voices. The Captains, meanwhile, kept forcing the issue, first splitting Shenandoah's 3-4 from their 1-2, and then splitting their 2 from their leader.
Lofton set the pace for most of the race with fellow junior Will Kirk (Mechanicsville, VA) executing his best race ever to keep him in sight. Franklin (Mac) McCracken (Richmond, VA), Scott Teribury (Woodbridge, VA), and Jeff Ball (Chesapeake, VA) rotated positions throughout the race and kept Shenandoah's #2 under pressure. Joshua Bowling (Crewe, VA) lagged for much of the race, but made a big move over the final mile to slide by three Hornets as well as three of his teammates. Matthew Winkler (Palmyra, VA) and Michael Hoy (Mechanicsville, VA) held down the 10th and 11th places through most of the course with a steady pace that almost brought them back up to Teribury at the finish line.
With a kilometer to go, the Captains had sealed not only a win, but a blow-out. Not even Shenandoah's Josiah Renton out-kicking Lofton to the finish to defend his individual title could mute the buzz around the CNU victory. Lofton finished second in 26:42.82 (30 seconds faster than his previous best time on the course). Kirk was third in 26:55.39 (43 seconds faster). Bowling came all the way up to fourth in 27:19.31 (his fastest 8k ever and 91 seconds faster than his time last year). Ball could not quite hold him off, even with a course improvement of 1:45 (27:20.70).
After the Hornets' #2 and #3 finished, the next wave of Captains arrived. McCracken was 8th in 27:32.14 (fastest ever 8k and a 2:30 best on the course). Teribury held on for 9th in 27:40.04 (1:45 course best). Winkler chased him in for 10th in 27:41.16 (nearly 3 minutes faster than his Conference debut time last year). Rookie Hoy crossed the line two steps later in 27:43.66.
Methodist grabbed an All-Conference spot and Shenandoah finally got their #4 across before Andrew Johnson (Gainesville, VA) arrived in 14th. His 27:55.50 was a 15 second course best and even Christopher Lyford's (Leesburg, VA) disappointing slip to CNU's #10 came with a 1:16 course best (28:07.40). Patrick Cunningham (Williamsburg, VA) just missed the All-Conference cut-off in 16th place (28:18.70) and Daniel Austin (Culpeper, VA) made it 12 of the top 20 for the Captains with his 8k best 29:06.75.
Shenandoah and CNU had polled pretty close by the South/Southeast Region pundits throughout the season. A narrow victory by the Captains at Salisbury earlier was not enough to keep the Hornets at bay in the eyes of the rankings. Both squads came in to the Championships with something to prove. Unfortunately for the Captains, they had to compete without fledgling senior Chrissy Rogers (Springfield, VA) who joined the squad just prior to the meet at Salisbury. She did not compete in that meet as she had not yet proven her readiness for collegiate competition and that left her with only two meets prior to the Championships. For the 2010 USA South Championships, a rule that had gone unenforced in previous years was made a point of emphasis: "student-athletes must compete in three meets prior to the Championships in order to be eligible for team scoring or All-Conference recognition". This caught all of the Conference coaches off guard and left four men's and three women's teams short of the five person minimum to score as a team and most of the remaining teams had at least one individual deemed ineligible.
In spite of the administrative frustrations, the Captains and the Hornets threw down a great competition. Like the men's race, blue and red dominated the front of the pack from the start -- with the exception of Methodist's Runner-of-the-Year Kristyn Zeiler setting her usual fast early pace. As has been her misfortune, however, the steady running of the rest of the lead pack eventually reeled her in. Last year's Conference Champion, Dira Hansen (Culpeper, VA) may have chased a little too hard early on, especially while fighting a chest cold.
While Zeiler's early pace strung out the lead group, none of them conceded and they shuffled positions while on the long perimeter trail at Hagen Stone Park. By the time the lead cart came through the 5k mark, Shenandoah's Amy Smith had taken control with a big lead over Zeiler and Rookie-of-the-Year Erin Rolaf (Woodbridge, VA). Hansen was still within 50m of her teammate, but was dogged by Shenandoah's #2. Rolaf made a huge push over the final 400m to finally overtake Zeiler and come within 6 seconds of Smith, earning a great 23:39.28 -- the 4th fastest time ever at the USA South Championships on this course. Hansen (24:11.46) could not quite hold off Shenandoah's #2, but Jade Zaharoff (Vienna, VA) was close on her teammate's heels and finished 6th (24:17.98).
It was another 30 seconds before Shenandoah got their third runner in for 8th place -- matching the Captains with 13 points through three runners. The ninth finisher in the race was Rogers at 24:56.40 followed by two from Shenandoah and then sophomore Karen Bumiller (Burke, VA) at 25:41 -- her fastest 6k by 24 seconds and 38 seconds faster than her previous time on this course. After Meredith College scored their first runner, Jessica McClelland (Stafford, VA) and Michelle Stauffer (Fort Valley, VA) arrived in 26:02.68 and 26:03.71, respectively -- the 14th and 15th finishers, but the 13th and 14th scorers after removing Rogers.
For a moment at the finish line, the Shenandoah squad was crushed -- seeing a 34-34 tie and then the Captains' 6-7-8 arriving before their 6th finisher (Meaghan Grant (Fairfax, VA) finished 18th in 26:35.39 to Shenandoah's 21st). Once they were informed that Rogers was a non-scorer, they realized their first ever Conference Championship, 32-37.
The Captains still head towards the Regionals with good momentum. McClelland's time was a 6k best by 20 seconds. Stauffer's time was a 14 second best and 1:47 faster than her previous best on this course. Grant's time was 18 seconds faster than her under-distance time on the already fast Salisbury course. Sophomore Emily Whitby (Alexandria, VA) finished just two spots shy of 2nd Team All-Conference with a 28:26 -- an 11 second 6k best and 1:34 faster than last year. With no participation minimums to worry about at Regionals and the continued return to health of Hansen, Zaharoff, and Stauffer, the Captains are looking forward to returning to racing in two weeks.
The NCAA South/Southeast Region Championships are in Memphis, TN on November 13th this year where the top two teams will earn automatic berths to the National Championships. Host Rhodes College ranks in the top two for both the men and the women, and so hope to use home-course advantage to take one of each of those spots. Another upset will be on the minds of Shenandoah's women who vaulted up to #3 in the polls (CNU slipped to #8) while the Captains will seek a measure of revenge. The CNU men face five evenly matched teams ahead of their #6 ranking. The top seven individuals not on a qualifying team will also earn a trip to Waverly, IA for the National Championships.
For complete CNU Results, check out the Results Page