“By the time I saw her at the finish, she had a lot of blood on her — on her lower body and both legs,” Coach Mark VanAlstyne said. “She was really tough, she didn’t let it affect her and she did what she had set a long time ago as a goal.”
LeHardy’s guts are indicative of all that the North Carolina men and women’s cross country teams have accomplished this season, and it’s not over yet. UNC runners believe they are in the makings of a new era.
For the first time in program history, both the men and women’s teams are headed to the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., simultaneously.
“First and foremost, it’s an honor considering all of the tradition in our sports programs, but second, I feel like this was our goal when we arrived, and as a team it’s been our goal all year,” VanAlstyne said. “So I understand it’s a first, but we truly feel this is where Carolina should be.”
The men are going for the second straight year, and the women haven’t gone since 2010.
Both teams placed third at the regional meet, which was not enough to get the automatic bids granted to the top-two teams from each region, but the points they accrued throughout the season got them to nationals on at-large bids.
“To be honest, we kind of knew that we were pretty much going to nationals unless we had a really, really bad race,” LeHardy said.
And a bad race is far from what they had. Following LeHardy were seniors Lianne Farber and Karley Rempel, who placed 8th and 24th, to also win all-region honors.
Not far behind were two true freshmen, Hannah Christen and Caroline Alcorta, rounding out the top five for the Tar Heels.
“I think the freshmen are probably — we’ve got the greatest freshmen team in the nation, I’m confident,” LeHardy said.
On the men’s side, the team nabbed the 30th out of 31 at-large bids for nationals.
“It was pretty nerve wracking,” said senior Ryan Walling, who finished first for UNC and 9th overall. “We weren’t too far out of one of the automatic qualifying spots, so we were hoping that what we had done in the season would be enough to qualify.”
The men returned five of the runners from nationals last year, and the top five runners finished within 30 seconds of each other.
Both teams are excited but always knew they could get to this point, and they want more.
“Not only do we want both teams getting there every year, we want both teams contending for national champs every year,” VanAlstyne said. “So this was a big and necessary step.”