The USF cross country season came to a close after the women’s team competed at the NCAA Championship Nov. 19. Many highlights and some disappointments marked the season.The women returned to the NCAA Championship for the fourth year in a row. This was a year of high expectations for an improving program. There were high hopes for a breakthrough performance this year in the national championship race, as the team entered the meet with its most talented roster to date. However, the Bulls ended up finishing last (31st) in the field, one place below their finish last year.
“We’re very disappointed at our performance at nationals,” coach Heather Curtiss said. “We have a very talented group of women; we did not perform like a talented group. We had a lot of mediocre performances and a lot of poor performances.
“I think it boils down to us being happy getting there and perhaps not serious about making a jump to the next level.”
The NCAA meet was the last cross country race for seniors Tara and Tiffany Quinn. Tara Quinn’s 68th-place finish at nationals was the best finish in USF history. The twins will compete on the track next semester.
“As I sat there getting ready for the race, I couldn’t believe that this was going to be my last race,” Tiffany Quinn said. “I was kind of sad and I was a little emotional. You always think that there will always be another race, then, all of a sudden, you’re at nationals and it is the last race for you.”
The disappointment of the championship race is linked to the expectations of the team created by a very positive regular season. The Bulls emerged champion of both the Appalachian State Invitational Aug. 31 and the Florida Invitational Sept. 22. The team also finished second in the Conference USA Championships and the South Regional Championship. At regionals, the Bulls placed four runners in the top 25.
“We ran at several small races and (that) allowed us to come out champions,” Curtiss said. “I think next year, we are going to re-evaluate our schedule and race against better teams. Perhaps that will help us have more desire to compete at nationals.”Many individuals also made great strides throughout the season. All the runners ran their personal bests at one point in the season. Junior Kristy Fuller was named Conference USA Runner of the Week, Oct. 2, and was awarded all-conference and all-regional honors. Also receiving all-conference and all-regional honors were the Quinns and freshman Christa Benton. Benton also was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year.
The men’s team this year consisted of all freshmen and one sophomore. Curtiss made it no secret that this would be a rebuilding season. The young runners of the team all beat their personal best times, some more than once. Although outmatched many times throughout the season, the team never failed to give their best and run a strong race against the nation’s elite teams. The conference championship marked the highlight of the men’s season. Despite finishing 11th, Curtiss and many of the runners feel that it was their best performance of the year and really personified their competitive spirit.
“Conference was a really big race to us to come out and run that well,” said sophomore Adam Chumbley. “It was really encouraging.”
Freshman Jim Vitale emerged as a leader of the men’s team, having the best finishes this year. He finished 12th in the conference championship and earned all-conference honors. He was also named to the all-regional team with a 22nd-place finish at the regional championship. Doug Brown is another freshman who stepped up to lead the team. Brown finished 45th and 67th at regionals and nationals, respectively.
“Each week, the men made gains. They ran hard consistently,” Curtiss said. “Jim Vitale had a phenomenal year. The team got a lot of great experience for the future.
“At conference, they really stepped it up and put it on the line. They really got a lot of good experience and expect to challenge for the championship next year.”
The future looks bright for both the men’s and the women’s team. Each team has received commitments from highly ranked high school runners. The emergence of freshmen like Vitale, Brown and Benton will ensure that both teams will once again challenge for next year’s championships. The men’s team will also have senior Andrew Smith, who will be coming off a redshirt year. Each runner will be able to improve his or her times throughout the indoor and outdoor track season. The women’s indoor track season starts in January.
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