With the start of the season just a day away, the women's cross country team is attempting to get back on top of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. After taking the ODAC Championship in 2010, the Generals finished second in 2011 behind Bridgewater. W&L was recently picked second in the ODAC preseason coaches' poll with the Eagles claiming the top spot. The Generals received one first-place vote and 72 points.
"Finishing second last year made the team hungry to finish first again," Head coach Kris Hoey said. "As far as the conference goes, one of our goals is to win the championship."
Hoey brings back eight runners from last year's squad and adds eight newcomers to the mix. The team has been training together the last two weeks on campus in preparation for the 2012 season.
"Preseason camp has gone really well," Hoey said. "We've had a couple of opportunities to kind of see where we are, and I'm really pleased in how the ladies are progressing. They are not only performing well, but are working together, which is critical."
The Generals return their top runner from last season in senior Lauren Schultz. Schultz qualified for the 2011 NCAA Championship after a 12th-place finish at the NCAA South/Southeast Regional. She was the first W&L women's cross country runner to qualify for nationals since Kat Telfeyan competed in the 2009 race.
Schultz also placed second at the ODAC Championship to earn First Team All-ODAC honors. Schultz also made her mark in the classroom as she was named the ODAC/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Hoey understands the benefit of having Schultz on her team.
"She definitely makes my job easier," Hoey said. "She is a great leader in practice and at meets. She leads by example and motivates people to do the extra things outside of practice. She is irreplaceable from every standpoint."
Not only does W&L return Schultz, but its next three finishers at the 2011 ODAC Championship. Junior Annelise Madison placed fifth and joined Schultz on the all-conference first team, while classmate Brandie Huffman took 11th and earned Second Team All-ODAC honors. Senior Molly Ortiz narrowly missed an All-ODAC citation with a 15th-place finish.
The eight newcomers consist of two sophomores and six first-year athletes. The runners are progressing and adjusting to the collegiate level at their own pace, but Hoey is most impressed by what they are doing as a unit.
"There are quite a few of them that are performing well," Hoey said. "But what I like to see is they are working together and understanding what we are trying to do as a team."
Along with the new athletes is an addition to the coaching staff. The team brought on Kristin Cupido as an assistant coach over the summer. Cupido comes to Lexington after serving as the head cross country and track & field coach at Kutztown High School in Pennsylvania last year.
"Working here has been fantastic," Cupido said. "The team atmosphere is great, and everyone is supportive of one another. Coach Hoey has given me a wonderful opportunity, and I'm happy to be here to learn and coach a really strong team."
The Blue and White open the season tomorrow at the ODAC Preview Meet at Peakview Farms in Harrisonburg, Va. The course will be the same as the one the team will run in eight weeks when it competes at the ODAC Championship.
"The ODAC Preview is a good opportunity to prepare for ODAC's later in the season," Hoey said. "The ladies will see what the course is like and find out the little intricacy's of it. Plus, when we are visualizing and mentally preparing for ODAC's the team will have what the course looks like in their minds."
Following the ODAC Preview, the Generals host the W&L Invitational on September 8, before taking three weeks off to focus on training. With all the work being done in practices and during the summer, the team and coach Hoey are ready to progress into some competitions.