BY Chris Haney
Distance team lifts UNC to strong finish in Winston-Salem
In every meet this season, a member of the North Carolina track and field team has set a personal best. In Winston-Salem, that trend continued.
As a team, UNC recorded six top-20 nationally clocked times this weekend at the Hilton Garden Innvitational and Camel City Elite Races.
Both the men and women’s distance teams were the highlight of the Tar Heels’ overall strong showing in the competition. Seniors John Raneri and Annie LeHardy led the way, sharing similar results in their respective 3,000-meter races, even though each athlete had varying expectations going in.
“This is the first time I’ve been put in this situation. It was definitely foreign territory,” Raneri said. “I knew a fast time was in my ballpark, I just hadn’t realized it yet — this was the perfect situation to realize that.”
This was Raneri’s first 3,000-meter race at the elite level against the fastest male competitors in the field, including non-collegiate professionals.
Raneri’s goal was to stay in the middle of the pack, stay competitive and finish the race as strong as possible in the final 1000 meters, where Raneri said he would simply see how fast he could run the rest of the way.
He exceeded his goal with a final time of 8:04.75, which was not only good enough for fifth place but was also a personal best and the sixth-fastest time in the nation this year.
LeHardy had a little more experience on her side since this was her second year in a row clocking a nationally-ranked time at this exact meet.
“I had an idea of what this race was going to be like since I ran it last year,” LeHardy said. “This year I wanted to take a bolder approach. I really wanted to secure my national spot so I was hoping to run 9:10 or faster.”
Right from the gun, LeHardy positioned herself in third and tried to hold her ground throughout. She didn’t want to be conservative and wanted to run up front with the pros as long as she could. For the first 2,000 meters of the race, LeHardy held her positioning, but then started to fall off pace a bit, losing precious seconds in the last three laps.
She might not have met her goal of 9:10, but she still took fourth place with a time of 9:19.79 — it was the best finish of any collegiate athlete in the race. LeHardy’s time also earned her the fourth best time in the nation this year, which would qualify her for the NCAA Indoor Championships if the season ended today.
"I was proud of the distance group, but there's still work to be done," distance coach Mark VanAlstyne said. "I don't know one athlete in distance events or otherwise that was satisfied with their performance. They're all going to work hard so they have a chance to be the best in the ACC."
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