At the end of last year’s cross country season, the women’s team was celebrating a 20th place finish at the NCAA Championships. At the same time, the men’s team was lamenting a season that had been derailed by injuries and mistakes.
With renewed hope and health for the men and the promise of continued success for the women, both teams enter this season believing that they can surpass last season’s results.
The women’s squad is defined by its depth, with five returning runners who each scored Duke’s top time in at least one race last season and 13 returnees who each scored at least one top-five time.
“Our strength is definitely in that everybody on our roster can really compete at this level,” said head coach Kevin Jermyn, who returns six NCAA outdoor qualifiers. “The key is to have everybody toe the line and run very, very aggressively. We can probably afford to take risks because we have the depth; we don’t have only five good runners so that if one of them has an off day there would be a big difference in the team result.”
The men’s team, meanwhile, is defined by its top five runners, with others on the team pushing for reserve slots. Senior leaders Mike Hatch and Nick Schneider have both been All-Southeast Region cross country performers and are joined by sophomores Dan Daly and Keith Krieger, a USA Track Federation Junior All-American. Freshman Chris Spooner, who head coach Norm Ogilvie calls “one of the best freshman recruits we’ve ever had come to Duke,” should also contribute immediately to Duke’s solidified top five. The battle for the sixth and seventh slots, however, should be heated.
“We have a host of sophomores and freshmen that all show a great deal of promise, but they’re young,” Ogilvie said. “We’re not sure when they’re going to make that move up.... [We have] outstanding depth in the top five, but the big challenge is going to be who can get closer to that other group.”
Even with all their talent, the men still must avoid a situation like last year when Hatch went down with a late-season injury. Following this injury, which rattled the team’s confidence, the runners’ performances went downhill.
“We’re going to do all the extra little things, making sure that we’re stretching, making sure that everyone’s taking the preventative measures,” Hatch said. “I had big goals individually and as a team last year and those kind of got swept out from underneath.... It definitely served to motivate me over the summer to make sure that I was training harder than I had ever trained and that I would come into this season more prepared than ever.”
Even though the women’s team is experienced and strong on paper, Jermyn will try to foster mental preparedness as the team builds toward the critical end-of-season meets.
“When we have a practice, we’re trying to mentally simulate all the things we face in a competition... so that when we get to race day we’re doing the same thing,” Jermyn said. “Even though the first few [races] don’t have the same prestige as the national championships, we’re going after it with the same level as the national championships. That way, by the time we hit nationals we’ve found the perspective and level of anxiety that’s right for them. It’s taking the guesswork out and trying to control things you can control before nationals.”
Jermyn declined to speculate on where the team would finish this season, maintaining that, although he’d like to see a good national finish, his focus is on improving from last year. His team, however, has more concrete goals.
“I think our team has the potential to be top five in nationals and compete to win ACCs and also our region,” said senior Paige Miller.
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