Pyramid plan

The University of South Florida’s cross country teams have formed a pyramid plan for this season to help accomplish their main goal, which is to win the Conference USA championship.

The plan involves conditioning throughout the season to ensure that both teams are healthy and prepared to make the final push for the conference title. Each meet is another step in the pyramid to achieve the final goal.

The Bulls look to move up a step on the pyramid when they travel Saturday to Athens, Ga., for the Bulldog Stampede.

Coach Greg Thiel said this race will give him an indication of how well his teams have prepared so far this season and how much better they will need to get before the Conference USA meet Nov. 2.

“This is going to show how they can compete,” Thiel said. “We know the more experienced runners can compete well, but for the younger runners, this is going to show how they can compete at the collegiate level.

However, winning isn’t a necessity. The Bulls’ main goal is to progress according to their plan.

Should the Bulls stumble and fail to meet their expectations, Thiel said there is no reason to panic this early in the season. He said he just wants his runners to be competitive and remain healthy.

Since the beginning of the season, the Bulls have used a workout program that focuses not only on the physical aspects of the sport, but also the mental aspects, so they will be ready when crunch time approaches in November.

“(Assistant) coach (Rita) Arndt does a lot of mental preparation in the workouts,” Thiel said. “It’s just an interesting sport because it’s so much mental.

“If you are feeling good about yourself, then maybe you run above your ability, but on the other hand, if you are questioning your ability, then you may falter.”

The Bulls will also use a little strategy as the season progresses by keeping their runners in a tight group during the race. Thiel said this could help because the runners constantly push each other during the race, encouraging each other to run harder.

“It’s real important in this sport to run as a group as long as you can,” Thiel said.

The group strategy helped the Bulls take their first step up the pyramid Aug. 30 at the Indiana Open, and if the results of that race indicate what will happen during the rest of the season, the Bulls have a legitimate shot at attaining their goal.

The men’s and women’s teams turned in good performances in the first meet of the season. The women’s team finished second to host Indiana, and although the men’s team total wasn’t calculated, Thiel said they ran a very good race.

USF’s women placed four runners in the top 10 in Bloomington, Ind., led by sophomore Christa Benton’s third-place finish.

On the men’s side, fifth-year senior Andrew Smith led the Bulls, winning the 7k race in 22:10.40. The win helped earn Smith the C-USA Cross Country Athlete of the Week Award.

“We’re expecting Andrew to do some big things this year,” Thiel said. “He’s the cream of the crop.”