Breakout star Sasha Neglia proved she deserves a spot on the UNC cross country team with an impressive first race win that led to awards two weeks ago.
Neglia, a first-year UNC cross county runner, set herself up for a successful career with the Tar Heels after a phenomenal first race. Neglia earned herself a win at the Virginia Invite in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sept. 25 against 30 other competitors who ran from three different schools.
With a 17:01.4 5K, she was 14 seconds faster than any other competitor and nearly 19 seconds faster than any of the runners from other schools. Her personal win also contributed to a team victory for the Tar Heels' women at their season opener race.
As a result of her success, Neglia was named ACC Cross Country Performer of the Week, as well as NCAA Division I Women’s Athlete of the Week by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. She is the first UNC cross country runner to win the latter title.
Neglia grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, where she ran cross country from sixth grade through her senior year of high school. She credits her father and older sister for inspiring her to start running — they both ran cross country, and she followed in their footsteps.
Neglia was the first recruit women’s cross country assistant coach Dylan Sorensen picked up for the 2020 season, after she chose North Carolina over Stanford.
“I loved what they valued, their organization and their commitment to the team,” Neglia said.
This admiration does not go unmatched. Sorensen respects Neglia's position as a young athlete, who is competitive in everything she does. Neglia said she feels a sense of belonging with the rest of the cross country team.
“I love all the women on the team," Neglia said. "We’re really close and want each other to do the best that we can."
One of her teammates, fifth-year Mady Clahane — who finished fourth in the Virginia Invite —reiterated Neglia’s sentiments about the closeness of the team. She said the tight-knit community of UNC cross country is what led her to come to the University in the first place and that the cohesiveness she has with her teammates is really special to her.
Both Neglia and Clahane had high hopes for themselves and their teammates leading up to their first race, wanting them all to give their best effort.
"The expectation and goal of (the Virginia Invite) was to illustrate all the grittiness and resilience all the women on our team have worked for on their own over the past six months while we weren't sure if there would be a season at all," Sorenson said.
Neglia feels grateful that the team is able to run competitively this season, as many college teams are currently unable to do so as a result of COVID-19.
Neglia said that her win at the Virginia Invite was exciting, both for herself and for the whole team. Clahane echoed this sentiment, calling the win “the coolest feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Clahane said she admires the gutsiness of all of the first-year runners, but has a special nickname for Neglia, one the first-year proved she deserved with her big win.
"She's the silent killer," Clahane said. "She's so quiet and sweet, and no one suspects anything of her."
Sorensen echoed Clahane's feelings, saying Neglia isn’t typically one to talk a big game, but when she won, he was “impressed, but not surprised.”
In relation to the recognition and titles Neglia has received as a result of her win, she is looking forward to the remainder of the season and hopes to keep progressing to make each race better than the one that preceded it.
“The recognition is an honor, but at the end of the day, that’s not what we’re working for," Neglia said.
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