Last season, the Washington and Lee women's cross country team won its 14th ODAC Championship and the second in the last three years. The Generals, a team that has consistently been at the top of the conference, will have to adjust to some changes in 2013. New Interim Head Coach Kristin Cupido steps in after serving as the assistant coach last season, and W&L will need to replace NCAA qualifiers Lauren Schultz '13 and Molly Ortiz '13.
"Lauren and Molly were amazing student-athletes," Cupido explained. "You can't really replace them, but we have a great group of core returners and a big incoming first-year class. We are hoping to have some of them step up and be part of the Top 5 and contribute."
Along with claiming the ODAC Championship, W&L finished in the Top 4 in every meet in 2012, including five Top 2 showings. The outlook this year remains the same, but Cupido understands every meet can teach the group something, whether the team wins or not.
"If we win a meet, then obviously that's great, but if we take second or worse, we view it as a learning experience for something we can work on," Cupido said. "The victories are nice to build off of, and the history of winning just makes everyone on the team work harder to try and maintain that."
Despite the loss of two First Team All-ODAC performers, the Generals still have a solid group coming back this fall. Senior captain Annelise Madison (Roca, Neb./Norris) is a three-time all-conference honoree, and she finished ninth at the conference championship in 2012. Junior Casey Mackintosh (Marietta, Ga./George Walton) came in fifth at the league championship last year to earn First Team All-ODAC accolades in her first season with the squad.
The other two captains are seniors Brandie Huffman (Warrenton, Va./Fauquier) and Katie Driest (Davidson, N.C./North Mecklenburg). Huffman, a two-time all-league performer, will miss the 2013 season due to injury, but will still provide a leadership presence for the Generals. Driest is coming off her best season, highlighted by crossing the finish line at the ODAC Championship with a time of 27:14.32.
"I expect this group of returners to lead by example on the cross country courses and in the classroom," Cupido noted. "They are all great student-athletes, so just being able to help the incoming first-years learn how to adapt to college life in the academic setting and then balancing it with athletics will be key."
In all, the Blue and White returns nine competitors from last year's squad. In addition, the Generals brought in seven newcomers, which marked their largest incoming first-year class since 2010. Among the rookies, Alana Babington (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul's Episcopal) won the Alabama 5A Cross Country State Championship in 2012, after taking fourth in 2011.
"I anticipate the newcomers to step it up a little bit, and see what they can do different from the high school to the collegiate level," Cupido said. "We want to see how they can transition, and then work with them and the team throughout the season to see what they can achieve."
The league coaches still believe the Generals will be the team to beat, as W&L was selected first in the ODAC Preseason Poll earlier this week. The Blue and White received seven of the 10 first-place votes, with Bridgewater garnering the other three and coming in second in the poll.
The season begins on Friday at the ODAC Preview Meet at Hampden-Sydney at 6:00 pm. The meet has the same course set up as the ODAC Championship will feature later this season. W&L won the event in 2012, but knows there will be challenges this year.
"It is a great event because we can see the course early in the season, and use some visualization techniques for when the ODAC Championship comes later," Cupido explained. "But at the same time it is hard, because at the beginning of the year you are just getting done with preseason and all of the training that goes along with it."
Even with the this year's team looking different from the 2012 counterpart, Cupido still has the bar set high for 2013.
"Every year it is always a goal to be a top contender and win ODAC's and this year is no different," Cupido stated. "Now, we want to defend our title, and take another step at the regional meet and go a little further from there."