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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's cross country wins ACC Championships; Parker Wolfe wins individual title

ACC 2023 Cross Country Championships -32.jpg

The UNC men's cross country team poses at the 2023 ACC Cross Country Championship in the Apalachee Regional Park on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications. 

It’s not simply about running up the hill. It’s about running over the top of the hill. 

This is the sentiment Chris Miltenberg, UNC's director of track and field and cross country, shares with the men's cross country team often. Every practice the Tar Heels are expected to understand the distinction – succumb to the difficulty or take it in stride. 

On Friday, UNC traveled to Florida for the ACC Championships, where the Tar Heels took home first place as a team and junior Parker Wolfe won the individual title. It was the men's cross country team's first ACC title since 1985 and the first time that a Tar Heel individual has taken home the gold since 1997. 

Getting to this point has been a steep battle in itself — one that Miltenberg has worked to mount over his last five seasons leading the team. 

In his first year as head coach, the men's team came tenth in the ACC, then ninth the next year. In 2021 they were fourth, and last year, the team placed third, missing second by one point. 

"And it’s been this exciting, steady evolution to climb our way up to a win," Miltenberg said.

Despite all the talk about facing inclines, the 8K trail at the Apalachee Regional Park is surprisingly flat. There is only one major hill, though runners have to scale it three times. 

Even with the flat terrain, the Tar Heels talked about and prepared for the hill all week. Questions of where to get the best surges and how to set the pace consumed the team, especially Wolfe.

Last year, Wolfe finished second at the ACC Championships by a margin of less than half a second. Wolfe entered the last 500 meters a full stride in front of Notre Dame’s Carter Solomon, however, Solomon overtook Wolfe after the final hill.

“I kind of had that in the back of my mind,” Wolfe said. "Definitely [at] the end of the race.” 

Before the last stretch on Friday, Wolfe and the entirety of the UNC team had raced perfectly. Through the seventh kilometer, four Carolina Blue jerseys made up the top ten. The tandem of graduate student Alex Phillip and Wolfe worked to set the pace during the middle of the race in what was a full-team effort. 

“We talked every day throughout the season about how we wanted to [win the ACC] as a team,” Phillip said. “How we wanted to do it together and it was going to take the village of the team.”

With the rest of the Tar Heels close behind him, Wolfe never wavered.

To cross the finish line first and feel the ACC blue-colored ribbon that swayed above it, all Wolfe had to do was brave that last hill.

He found himself in a familiar full stride in front of Syracuse’s Paul O’Donnell with the final incline approaching. The last few meters before the finish line. The last battle.

With memories of last year’s loss rushing through his head, Wolfe took the hill. Even after running for the last 20 minutes, he attacked the incline with new strength. In Miltenberg’s words, he “put the hammer down.”

O’Donnell didn’t cross for another five seconds.

“I had to hit the hill hard and go over the top running, which is what we practice every day, and we do a lot of our workouts running over the top of the hills,” Wolfe said. “[I] used it there and it went in my favor for sure.” 

After a year of steady growth, Wolfe finally won, but this is just the beginning for him and the legacy that the Tar Heels are looking to build, Miltenberg said.

“It’s been a bunch of close seconds,” he said. “For him to finally get one, to get his first ACC title, hopefully, it’s one of many to come, but that’s a big deal.”

@_emmahmoon

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