UNC standout Shalane Flanagan, the returning two-time Southeastern and ACC champion, led the women's cross country team to a seventh place finish in the NCAA's last season.
Over the past two seasons the junior was the team's young star -- as a freshman she finished fourth in the nation. Now, one of the oldest on the team, she carries the authority that comes with age.
"I feel like I can help a lot of people on the team because I do have a lot of experience in running," Flanagan said.
Flanagan finished 19th in nationals last year and was named NCAA Cross-Country Player of the Year.
"I had a lot of pressure on me last year during the NCAA and didn't run well," Flanagan said. "This year I will be upset if I don't finish in the top-five."
Flanagan is followed by three other runners, namely sophomores Carol Henry and Erin Donohue. The two sophomores finished 31st and 48th in the 2001 NCAA final.
Also looking to jump into the mix is senior Liz Awtrey, who finished 153rd.
"With three of our top four runners being young last year, the team has been able to get used to how the things will work," said Mike Whittlesey, head coach for both teams.
For the past two years the team has finished second in the conference to rival N.C. State. This year UNC looks to break the streak.
"This year the conference is one of the strongest in the nation," Whittlesey said. "With this, we're going to be seasoned when we go into the national race."
However, the leading role on the men's team is open for auditions. The recruits could step up and make an early impact.
"We have a freshman class that has a lot of talent and a lot of hard work," said Brian McGovern, the Tar Heels' top returner. "On any given day there is going to be a freshman able to try to get a spot on the varsity squad."
McGovern, who finished 46th in the ACC last year, is also joined this year by a handful of strong sophomore runners.
The incoming freshman class will combine with sophomores Matthew Daly, Hunter Graham and McGovern.
"Three of our top five were freshmen last year and they were learning then," Whittlesey said. "I definitely feel as though this big group of young runners is going to pick up the team."
Returning to the team are seniors David Stroupe, Dash Victor and Kris Kurijiak. Only Kurijiak finished last season with the Tar Heels.
Stroupe, who was the 1999 ACC Freshman of the Year, missed last season because of injuries, and Victor red-shirted after an injury.
"The depth of this team gives us the strength to pick up the slack. And the competition to make the top seven runners will help the team," Whittlesey said.
"I am very excited about this year for both men's and women's teams. Last year was a great year and this year looks to be better."
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