The North Carolina men’s and women’s cross country teams started what promises to be a successful season with dominant victories against in-state opponent Charlotte on Saturday.
Led by sophomore Patrick Anderson, who placed second overall in Saturday’s race with a time of 14:50.1, the men’s team beat Charlotte 23-32. The trio of sophomore Sasha Neglia, sophomore Kelsey Harrington and graduate student Paige Hofstad led the women’s team to a 17-42 victory over Charlotte.
UNC runners took four of the top-five individual spots in each 5K race. Neglia also earned ACC Cross Country Co-Performer of the Week honors.
North Carolina’s performance in Charlotte has the Tar Heels heading into the rest of their season with high expectations and hopes of improving on the men’s seventh place and the women’s fifth place finish in last season’s ACC Championships.
“Even if we don’t win (the ACC Championship), I think we can definitely do better than fifth and finish in the top three positions,” Harrington said. “But my goal overall is to win the ACC.”
With 11 returning runners on the men’s team and 12 on the women’s team, the Tar Heels started their season after completing a rigorous, high-mileage workout plan this summer and adding high-quality depth from a strong recruiting class.
The Tar Heels’ coaching staff gave runners weekly workout schedules as the team went its separate ways for the summer offseason.
The summer training laid a strong foundation for the cross country teams to build upon this season. But now that the runners are all back together, the key for the Tar Heels is meshing together their individual offseason efforts to reach their collective goals.
To help connect offseason efforts, first-time UNC women’s cross country head coach Dylan Sorensen emphasized running as a unit during practice.
That unit running was put on full display Saturday against Charlotte, as the difference between the Tar Heels' top runner and fifth runner was only 16 seconds for the men and 46 seconds for the women.
Anderson said the unit running is crucial for the team to work together.
"We all run workouts together and pull each other through these hard workouts," Anderson said. "And we want to mimic that in these races.”
While the team’s unit running gives them reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season, their talented first-year class — headlined by first-years Ethan Strand and Brynn Brown — also has the team and coaching staff excited about the depth they add and their potential to make an immediate impact.
“The most exciting part of our team this year is that we have extraordinarily greater depth than we had one or two years ago,” Sorensen said. “I will not be surprised if any one of those people on our team comes into the top five on both the men’s and women’s side.”
UNC has five more races before the ACC Championships. The men’s biggest test of the season before the championships will likely be in Wisconsin at the Nuttycombe Invitational — one of the biggest regular-season competitions annually — while the women’s will likely be at the FSU XC Invite.
The Tar Heels' next meet will be Sept. 17, when the men travel to Cary to participate in the Adidas XC Challenge, while the women will travel to Boston on Sept. 24 to race in the Battle in Beantown.