When the women step up to the line in Charlotte, N.C. today at the NCAA Southeast Regional meet, their performances will decide if their season will continue through to the national meet next weekend, or end as they cross the finish.
The Blue Devils are a team that consistently tries to steer clear of worrying about places or other competitors and focuses solely on enjoying its performance. Despite their outlook, today’s competition is all about place. In order to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship meet, the women will have to secure a top-two finish. If they are unable to do so, the runners will have to rely on their strong performances against nationally-ranked teams earlier in the season to earn them the at-large points they will need to travel to Louisville, Ky. and attempt to hold their own against the nation’s best.
Both head coach Kevin Jermyn and his runners, though, have noted that the seemingly conflicting outlook and competitive atmosphere can actually go hand in hand.
“We are fortunate enough that we did well at our Wisconsin meet and so placing [in the top-two] doesn’t matter because we have enough points for at-large,” senior Juliet Bottorff said. “There isn’t as much at stake anymore, so it’s really not much of a transition, honestly we’re still focusing on being relaxed.”
Last season, Bottorff was unable to run due to injury, and the team found itself waiting for an at-large qualification that never came. As a result, only Madeline Morgan was able to travel to the championship meet and compete. This year, however, the entire team is more confident—something that comes from not just good practices and a laid-back outlook, but started even before the season began.
“Between last year and this year, it’s a complete 180,” Bottorff said. “This year, I know everyone’s happier…. I feel like we’ve figured ourselves out, we’ve got a great dynamic. It’s nothing like last year. I think this is a product of a long time—we’ve built this bond and this dynamic on the team since the start of the summer.”
The team’s positive outlook seems to come from emphasis on the team, rather than the individual. Instead of worrying about personal places and times, the runners have consistently focused on enjoying the experience of being with their friends and teammates and this weekend will be no different. Even as they prepare to go into the most high-pressure meet of their season, the Blue Devils are thinking about the excitement the experience of racing together will generate and the fans that are coming to cheer them on.
Of course, a good feeling is just the beginning. If they want their time together on the cross country team to continue, the runners will have to prove that they can translate their positive mindsets into NCAA Championship qualification.