After dominating both the Big East Championships and Mid-Atlantic Region Championships over the past two weekends, Georgetown’s men’s and women’s cross-country teams are preparing to replicate their top finishes at the upcoming NCAA National Championships on Saturday, Nov. 22, in Terre Haute, Ind.
The No. 2 women’s team earned first place overall at both the Big East and regional meets, with senior distance runner Katrina Coogan taking the individual title both times.
Coogan’s postseason performances place her among the top runners in the country, but she stresses that her individual success is just a part of accomplishing a larger goal.
“It definitely gives me confidence going into the national meet to believe that I belong with those girls up at the front of the race,” Coogan said. “But mostly, I was just happy that I could contribute in that way to the team score, because for me, the team success is so much more important — it’s way more important than any of us individually.”
Head Women’s Coach Michael Smith said that Coogan has instilled confidence in her teammates; given that the cross-country scoring system awards the win to the team with the lowest overall score, Coogan’s first-place finishes take pressure off other scorers.
“Your first runner is competing at the front of the race, so it allows the other runners to run more confidently knowing that the team score is already … going to be dramatically altered,” Smith said. “Katrina … has allowed our athletes to have a lot more confidence [during] the races about following the race plan and not needing to be perfect in the moment.”
Based on its impressive performance during the regular season, the women’s team was already guaranteed an at-large bid to the NCAA championships when it entered the Mid-Atlantic Region Championships last weekend. With this certainty, the team’s race plan at regionals focused on simulating some of the situations it would face at nationals.
“We wanted to focus on having a really strong second half of the race,” Coogan said. “We had to move through a lot of people and move forward and just keep building throughout the race.”
One of the biggest challenges that is unique to the national meet is the sheer number of runners competing in both the men’s and women’s competitions; 31 seven-person teams and 38 individuals qualify for each respective race. During the first 1000 meters, Georgetown will need to carefully navigate the crowded course in order to execute its race plan.
“There’s going to be a lot of people at the NCAA meet, so to practice staying composed and running relaxed with a lot of other people around was really important [during the regional meet],” Coogan said.
After overcoming a challenging race at regionals to seal a second-place finish overall, the Georgetown men’s team, ranked No. 13, is also confident in its preparation for the national meet.
The men’s team did not earn a bid to the national meet last year, so according to Men’s Distance Coach Brandon Bonsey, the opportunity to race this weekend marks the tremendous progress the team has made this year.
“We knew coming into the year that this was an inexperienced team — a talented team, but inexperienced — but I’ll take the talent over experience any day,” Bonsey said. “I guess our biggest obstacle would just be that we’re young.”
With a large portion of the men’s team having no experience competing at the national level, Bonsey said the team’s main focus will be to utilize the talent that has carried it through every other race this season.
“It’s just a race, it’s no different than anything we’ve been doing all year,” Bonsey said.
Smith echoed this response, saying that the most important goal for the women’s team will be to maintain its consistency.
“We’re going to beat lots of people just based on trying not to do anything differently,” Smith said. “It’s just business as usual for our group, and we’re going to go about it the way we go about every race, and I think that really controls the range of outcomes that we’ll see at the end.”
During the remaining days before the NCAA National Championships, both teams are looking to end the season on a high note by controlling stress, staying loose and working together.
“We get to step on the line next to our best friends, and that’s something really cool that I don’t think is necessarily true on every other team,” Coogan said. “When we go out there, we’re not focusing on what we’re doing for ourselves. … We all have each other’s backs.”