The men’s cross country team battled to a 3rd place finish at the A-10 Championships on Saturday in Richmond, with three runners earning all-conference honors. The women’s team placed 8th and were led by the sensational Caroline Yarbrough ’19, who took 3rd overall.
The day began with the men’s 8K race. Bradley Heuer of La Salle took the race out at a blistering pace, running a 4:42 first mile, with a large pack of runners aiming to keep pace. Among that front group was Davidson’s veteran duo of Ryan Phillips ’16 and Daniel Samet ’16, whose race plan was to stay with the lead group, keying off of favorite George Mason’s top two runners. Using each other as a barometer, they were able to keep pace as the race became more tactical.
However, with George Mason having an off day, the Davidson duo had to change plans. Phillips, Samet and Will Brewster ’17 became separated. At the 5K mark, Steven Flynn of George Mason took command of the race, breaking away to eventually take first by over 20 seconds. Behind him, however, the race was wide open. The ‘Cats now had to rely on racing instincts and the training plan that had gotten them to this point.
Phillips and Samet raced to 11th and 13th place finishes in the end with times of 24:57.2 and 25:00.4 respectively. But it was the work of their teammate Brewster that caught the eye. Patiently buying his time, he made his move with 2K to go. Using all the energy he could muster, Brewster kicked his way over the last 600 meters to a 9th place finish, finishing in 24:54.2. The three of them earned all-conference honors for their top- 15 finishes.
“The final stretch of a cross-country race can be summed up with one word: pain,” said Brewster. “A lot can be decided in the final stretch, so I was completely zoned in on sucking it up, getting more guys, and not getting caught.”
Brewster, a transfer from the University of Illinois, came into his first season at Davidson with the burden of expectation placed upon him. Everybody knew he was a big-time runner capable of breaking 25 minutes in a championship meet. But to this point, nobody had seen the full extent of his ability.
“After the race, I was pretty pumped,” added Brewster. “During the first few races, I certainly wasn’t living up to the expectations that everyone had for me coming in, so it was nice to finally break through and run to my potential. But mainly, I was stoked for my teammates. We had a great day overall. Not many teams get to boast three all-conference runners. I’m proud of the way we fought.”
Captain Walker Mogen ’17 was Davidson’s fourth across the line in 32nd place overall with a time of 25:19.2. Although foot injuries nagged him all year, Mogen fought to run his best race of the year when it counted most. And just behind him was Dylan Carmack ’19, who continues to impress with his performances as a freshman. Carmack finished 38th in 25:25.8, rounding out Davidson’s top-five on the day.
Saint Joseph’s took the team title, followed by UMass. But this was a noteworthy performance by Davidson. Everybody stepped up in the big moment to earn a third-place finish just ahead of La Salle and Richmond.
“What impressed me most about our race was our ability to cut through the weight of pressure and expectation that always comes with a championship race and just do our job,” said Phillips. “Everyone executed their race plans pretty flawlessly and raced well when it counted.
The women’s race followed shortly after. From the gun, Yarbrough, who had piled up three Atlantic 10 weekly awards this season, raced to the front. There she stayed for the entire 5K. Her first mile was a 5:26.2 and she never fell off, finishing 17:20.9 and edging out a Richmond runner for third place in a photo finish.
“Going into the race, I was extremely nervous but I tried to not let the adrenaline get to me by staying in control the first mile and settling behind a pack of girls,” said Yarbrough. “Once I hit the second mile mark, I realized that my legs felt really good and I could start picking it up.“
“Throughout the race, I tried to stay focused on why I was running–for Davidson, for my team, for the seniors, for the hundreds of miles we’ve put in over the summer and fall to prepare for this race,” she continued. “Keeping this thought in my mind helped me to not want to give up and to put everything I had into the race.”
For her efforts, Yarbrough was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and earned all-conference honors. Her time was a new personal record by 23 seconds, wrapping up a remarkable freshman campaign that few saw coming. She herself says she did not expect this level of success in year one.
Without teammates nearby, Allison Cheeseman ’18 negotiated a tough racing situation to finish 28th in 18:07.4, beating her personal best time by one second. Behind her, Hayden Bates ’17 seemed to grow stronger as the race grew on, using a tremendous finish to earn 43rd place overall in 18:29.1, also a personal record.
Sarah Sears ’18 and Caroline Turner ’17 rounded out Davidson’s scoring with 52nd and 53rd place finishes in 18:38.2 and 18:38.4, respectively, with Turner’s finish a personal best. Behind them, Olivia Menden ’16 returned from injury to post an impressive 65th place finish in her first race of the year.
With each of the top five finishers returning next season and tremendous depth behind them, the women’s team is set up for long-term success.
However, both the men’s and women’s teams are not done with their seasons quite yet. Regionals await in a week and a half. For the first time this year, the men’s team earned a top-15 team ranking in the recently released rankings for the notoriously competitive Southeast Region. But as expectations for the team and for individuals increase, the team has proven it is capable of stepping up.