“Pat Schellberg didn’t run because of a foot injury that came up a couple days ago,” Vanhoy said. “Missing one of our top guys up front, we didn’t have enough firepower to take the top spot.”
UNC’s women were no less burdened.
A stomach cramp about a mile into the course forced senior All-American Kendra Schaaf out of the race.
“I was pleased with our performance,” Lucena said. “But I just know if we’d had Kendra, we would have won.”
As an early season race, however, Vanhoy said that the event allowed the young team to get its legs under it. Freshmen Scott Morgan and Blake Williams placed ninth and 15th respectively in their first-ever college race in the 8k distance, both posting times well below 26 minutes.
Last year, the men failed to qualify for the national meet, finishing ninth in the region and third in the ACC. The women finished 14th at NCAAs in 2010, but Lucena said she thinks this year will be even better for the Tar Heels.
“We’re shooting for the top 10,” she said. “The UNC squad has been on the downside for the past few years. We’re definitely a young team and an underdog, but we’re on the way up.”
Lucena attributes the team’s ascendency to the efforts of third-year head coach Peter Watson, who came to the UNC program the same year she did. She said that his dedication to the team and collaboration with the track program have helped bring cross country back into the limelight.
UNC will have a chance to prove itself at the ACC championship meet at Clemson on Oct. 29, although the team will travel to the Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 14 for a final tune-up.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to compete with the top teams in the country before ACCs,” Vanhoy said. “We just want to find a way to improve every week so that we can put up better and better performances at conference, regionals and eventually nationals.”
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