In any sport, a week off can give a team a number of positive outcomes. Sometimes it allows time for injuries to heal, while other times it allows more room for game planning and mental training. For many of the athletes, it can be a much-needed break from the rigors of the regular season.
With a successful regular season and nine straight weeks of competition under their collective belt, the members of the men’s cross country team finally had a week off this past weekend in preparation for the NCAA Atlantic Region Championships this weekend.
For a team that had so much success this season, the challenge is to keep the momentum gained from winning an Empire 8 Conference Championship title on the right track. But the athletes will not complain about the time off, senior Tyler Gustafson said.
“I don’t think there are any negatives to the time off,” Gustafson said. “It’s important to get a little rest. If anything, it will help us, because if we competed hard this past weekend there would be a chance we’d be tired for regionals, and the goal is to go in at 100 percent.”
The team did not follow its normal schedule of events for a typical week of training, only running for 45-60 minutes on the weekdays until Friday. The Bombers then traded grass for rubber and graced the Butterfield Stadium track. Every athlete took part in a 2-mile time trial, graduate student Bill Way said.
“It’s the second time we’ve done it this season,” Way said. “We did it once in the beginning and once in the end. It’s kind of a special end of the season ‘treat.’”
Way said he enjoyed the change of pace in the practice routine, setting a team record in the race with a time of 9:28.
By keeping the athletes’ competitive focus sharp, it makes it harder for them to sleepwalk through the long layoff and keeps their bodies in tip-top shape as well.
That mental edge will be key this weekend, as the Blue and Gold compete in familiar territory — Oneonta, N.Y., the same location the SUNY-Oneonta Airfield Invitational took place Sept. 17.
While some of the top runners did not compete there, many of the athletes were there to see the course, allowing them to envision different aspects of the course weeks in advance. Normally, the runners get just a day or two in advance to actually see where they will be competing.
“Now we have an idea what the course is, and that’ll impact our strategy,” Way said. “We’ll be able to visualize what it is like to come off the starting line, where we want to be on certain turns and our position in the race depending on where we are on the course.”
Considering the Bombers did not have these advantages during the regular season, their collection of athletes are poised to make a strong showing.
The Blue and Gold are not led by just one runner every single race, which is a testament to the team’s depth. Few teams in the northeast have more than one athlete who can outrun the rest of the competition.
“The fact that we have so much depth as a team will give us a lot of confidence,” Way said. “That will help us not get too worked up or overwhelmed. We’ve had some weeks where someone had an injury or didn’t run so well, and someone always stepped up.”
For much of this season, Way has shared the top spot on the team with senior captain John Davis. Davis, who edged out Way by just a few steps at the finish line at the Empire 8 Championships, said their competition on the course has benefited both runners.
“We definitely push each other,” Davis said. “We have brought each other through tough spots all season. It’s been helpful for both of us.”
If the South Hill squad can use its depth and be successful Saturday, it will begin to realize its ultimate goal of the NCAA Championships, which has been on its radar since June, is attainable.
Ranked No. 36 in the nation by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, the Blue and Gold know anything is possible and this might be the season where everything clicks, Gustafson said.
“It’s kind of crazy how much success we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve been just as close in the past, and for some reason it didn’t click. We’re hoping this year it just falls into place. If it happens we can be a very competitive and dangerous team.”