The 'Pack will not be the only tough competition present in Saturday's race. No. 23 Wake Forest and No. 25 Virginia will be vying to stifle the Triangle's rivalry and come out on top themselves.
N.C. State may be the team to beat, but UNC freshman Shalane Flanagan will be the runner to beat. The only race she did not win during the regular season was the NCAA Preview on Oct. 14. Flanagan placed third out of 300 competitors.
"ACCs are really important teamwise," Flanagan said. "Top two is what I want. If someone beats me, they'll have earned it."
Flanagan said that although she wants to perform well during conference and district competitions, her focus is primarily on the NCAA Championships.
Timberlake and junior Beth George are also expected to finish strong for the Tar Heels. Both placed in the top 10 in the first two races of the regular season.
"We have great depth, so winning the title is very realistic," Timberlake said.
The UNC men will have to focus on more than just passing the red jerseys in their conference race on Saturday. They have two rivals to worry about.
Duke and N.C. State are both ranked in the top 15. Wake Forest and Virginia exhibited strength during the regular season, too. Many of the Tar Heels have said they hope to finish in the top three.
"We should be reaching our stride now," sophomore Matt Weiss said.
The men executed the technique of running in a pack during their last race, the N.C. Intercollegiate Championship. The team stayed together for the 3-mile stretch in the middle of the race.
"It's good to see that working because I feel like, as captain, I've been stressing running as a pack," senior Nick Iauco said. "In running, you have a tendency to be the first over the line, but in cross country you have to remember that it's easier to do that if your team is with you."
Iauco finished in the top eight in his last two races. Terrance McRae made a consistent showing during the regular season, finishing in the top 12 in every race. Weiss and Dash Victor also aim to place high at ACCs.
"The men are really hungry and are starting to get a lot of confidence off of their last couple races," Whittlesey said. "I really see success in their future."
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