Valeriani, LeHardy lead cross country

They’re called “kickers” — runners that surge to the finish line in the final moments of a race — and Matt Valeriani doesn’t consider himself one of them.

He’s more of an even-paced distance runner, maintaining a steady tempo throughout the entire race. But with about 800 meters left in North Carolina’s Joe Hilton Cross Country Invite and a Campbell University athlete strides ahead of him, that didn’t matter.

He gained his composure, sped up, and sprinted to the finish line — landing both him and North Carolina first place finishes. It was an 800 meter push that he vividly remembers mentally preparing himself for.

“Just stay calm and relax,” he said.

“Get ready to catch him.”

It was the first official victory for the senior — who didn’t compete in cross country last fall — and a way for him to finally get revenge for a past setback.

“Two years ago, we had a home meet and we didn’t lose as a team, but someone from another team beat everyone on our team,” he said.

“It was nice for one of us … to finish in front of everyone else as the number one guy.”

Valeriani finished the 3.1 mile course in 14 minutes, 46 seconds, beating fellow teammate Stephen Mulherin by two seconds in North Carolina’s first place finish.

Valeriani’s victory was just another testament to his team’s depth, coach Mark VanAlstyne said.

“On the men’s side — they’re so talented — we probably have eight or nine athletes that depending on the week maybe will take first,” VanAlstyne said.

“It’s really hard to put a finger on it on the guys’ side. It was a surprise (that Valeriani won) to me, not from the standpoint of I couldn’t believe he could it, but just because you never know with this group.”

The women’s team however, is more transparent, VanAlstyne said.

Junior Annie LeHardy proved that Saturday.

LeHardy led her squad — which scored 21 points — to a first place finish, and won the women’s competition in 17:46. She finished right with teammate Lianne Farber, who ran the race as an unattached competitor

“With Annie, it was absolutely how we expected, because we’re going to redshirt Lianne this season,” VanAlstyne said.

“The rest of the team is just so young. We would expect that she lead that group.”

But for LeHardy, Saturday was less about her individual victory, and more about a day of training to keep her body healthy for an upcoming season that doesn’t have any more home meets.

“I thought it was a really nice start to our season, certainly this meet was one of the smaller meets that we’ll compete in,” she said.

“We really wanted to give it a pretty good effort but not go 100 percent. It was a great day to put good work in and see a nice result come out of it.”

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