Under director of cross country Nicole Cook, the men’s and women’s cross country teams have captured top-two finishes in all three meets this season. The Rams finished second overall in the Longwood/Adidas Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 19 and finished second in the William and Mary Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 12. In the opening meet of the season, the Rams placed first overall in the Virginia State Invitational on Sept. 5.
Senior Mohammad Adam and sophomore Emily Dyke once again led the Rams to the finishing line as both runners claimed first for their respective teams in Longwood University’s Invitational. Running a five-mile run, 8k for the men’s, Adam clocked in at 16:04 and three seconds later was joined by senior Samuel Hush. Both seniors have finished first and second among the men in all three races this season.
For the women’s 5k, a three-mile run, Dyke finished first overall for the second time in her collegiate career, clocking in at a time of 19:17. A second later, freshman Nichelle Scott would cross the finish line and freshman Courtney Holleran would place ninth with a time of 19:43. For the third consecutive week, Dyke, Scott and Holleran all finished in the top-15.
For Cook, the blend of upperclassmen and a women’s team mostly made up of freshmen and sophomores has been the formula for early success. Now in her fifth year with the teams, Cook says she has been able to mentor and see the growth of both the men’s and women’s student-athletes. One of her standouts thus far is Dyke, who worked over the summer in preparation for the fall season. She says she feels the hard work has started to pay off.
“This year I feel a lot stronger because last year I was coming out of high school and now it’s different because I have a year under my belt,” Dyke said. “I feel like I trained harder this summer and I’m feeling a lot better.”
Cook says that over the summer, players have to hold themselves accountable by doing conditioning on their own. A training plan is provided, but players must adhere to the strict regimine. It’s all about discipline Cook says and it’s a philosophy that Cook tries to instill in her players.
“This sport requires you to push yourself and you have to be really disciplined,” Cook said. “You’re doing the same repetitive thing every day so it’s very disciplined and you have to do so much in order to be great, you have to eat right, sleep right (and) you have to balance life, so it’s a heavy requirement in my eyes.”
For the Rams, three team finishes in the top-two to open the season is the best opening in recent memory. Cook attributes it to the work ethic of the players. The cross country teams practice three times day, three times a week, though Cook says she pushes each player differently, adjusting to their strengths and weaknesses. The key to that is keeping an open mind she says when it comes to training and competing.
“My coaching is more about being supportive and making sure they’re staying on task with what it is I have them doing and keeping them focused.” Cooks said.
Cook and Dyke feel cross country should be more respected as a sport because of the amount of work that goes into preparing for each meet. However, once the running begins, Cook feels the sports should be respected because of the mental aspect as well as the toll it can take on a runner.
“It take a lot of talent, it takes a lot of mental and then you have to train really hard,” Cook said.
Up next, the Rams travel to Hagan Stone in Pleasant, North Carolina to run in the Hagan Stone XC Classic on Oct. 4. The Rams will then transition into the backend of their schedule before running in the Atlantic 10 conference championships in November.
Cook says the finishes have been a confidence builder, but almost midway through the, both teams have to remain level headed and continue to progress as the season moves forward.