At the cross-country national championship, Queens coach Tom Scott says pack running is key

Queens cross-country athletes running Nov. 28 along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, in preparation for the national championships on Saturday, Dec. 1.After winning both conference and regional titles, Queens men’s and women’s cross-country teams are headed to the national championships. They compete this weekend in Pittsburgh and expect to experience horrible weather conditions. Coach Tom Scott — who led these wins in his first year at Queens — believes running in a pack may help.

The races start at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park. Advance video coverage is available on Project Airwaves.

“One thing we’ve really focused on this year is pack running,” Scott said earlier this week. “Our team has done really well and we’ve gotten a lot better at it. In the first 100-200 meters of the race we try to find each other. We pack up. You’re going to run way more comfortable when you’re running with teammates who you’ve been doing workouts with the last four to five months,” Scott said.

The team is preparing for the worst when it comes to the weather.

“It’s going to be super muddy, super wet. There could be a little bit of snow but we’re ready,”said Scott. “If we are going to do really well we are going to have a strong pack and run together, run smart, and work for each other. That’s how we are going to do the best that we can.”

Three of the athletes on the men’s team, Daniel Wallis, Felix Wammetsberger, and Anthony Raftis, placed in the top five in the Division II southeast regional championship, driving the men’s team toward grabbing first place for the first time since 2011. Raftis, a junior, is on board with Scott’s strategy. “At the end of the day, cross-country is a team sport and our team score is what matters. So, every workout we do, we are running together, and every race we do, we try to pack together. Because when you’re running together in practice, then you know you can do it on race day as well.”

Senior Daniel Wallis, of London, UK, mapped out what he believes the course will be like on Saturday.

“In Pittsburgh it’s going to be very cold, very wet, and possibly a chance of snow,” said Wallis. “We imagine that it’s going to be tough. There are five laps and it’s going to be very muddy by the time we get to the fourth and fifth laps.”

On their way north, the team stopped to train in West Virginia, encountering snow and harsh conditions. Along with other teammates, Wallis is prepped with warm race attire, but understands that preparing for the cold is only a small part of competing in this championship. “I do everything I can in terms of equipment,” he said. “I can put on longer spikes and warmer clothes. But when it comes to the race I’ve just got to strategize better. Be sure that by the end of the race I am stronger than the rest of my competition.”

Scott has been working with the men’s and women’s teams to prepare for the competition since the start of the summer.

“These kids have put in a ton of work the last five months to get prepared for this. This has been what we’ve been talking about all year,” he said. “We knew we were going to be a team that would qualify for the national championships…. Two to three years down the road, we want to be a team on both the men’s and women’s side that’s contending for a top four spot,” he said.

Carissa Jenkins, on the women’s team, said mental preparation is key to course conditions. “We are trying to get this idea of the cold out of our heads,” she said. “Being a team coming from the south, we’ve been blessed with sunny days. But as we go to Pittsburgh, it’s going to snow, it’s going to be muddy. The women’s race is going to be after the men’s race. So, the course is going to be, in so many words, trashed. It’s going to be muddy, so we have some half-inch spikes to be wearing. But other than that it’s going to be a gutsy race.”

“With cross country, the strategy is to continue moving on throughout the race, to keep moving up,” she continued. “The starting line is going to be a very compact box where there’s only a width of two persons side by side. So, getting out quick and fast is going to be the goal.”

Runner Zuzana Durcova, of Myjava, Slovakia, said the course conditions will be tough.

“Fitness-wise, we were preparing the whole season for this, and we are in the best shape possible,” Durcova said. “You can’t really do anything about the weather, so it will be cold, it will be raining or snowing and muddy, so we just have to stay mentally tough and do our best.”

Kiara Jacobs ’18, a journalism/digital media major from Durham, N.C., contributed reporting on this story. Image courtesy of Haylee Love.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.