Men’s and women’s cross country teams reflect on dual championships

The men and women’s cross country teams both took home the conference championship title for this year’s cross-country season, a remarkable accomplishment, according to head coach Nicholas Cooper.

“Both our men’s team and our women’s team each won their conference championship this year. It was the first time that Norwich had won a men’s and women’s GNAC cross country championship in the same year, which was one of our team goals for the year.”

According to Cooper, the men’s team ran over a total of 12,000 miles during the 13-week season and the women’s team ran over 7,000 miles – in addition to lifting and fulfilling the needs for their Corps of Cadets and ROTC training.

When it comes to conditioning for the sport, the runners need to prep for longer than just a preseason. “The cross country team prepares for their season by running a lot. Running is a sport that you can only get better at by putting in the work and in general the more work you put in the faster you will be. So we plan in terms of years and not in terms of seasons or weeks,” Cooper explained.

“In addition to putting the miles in, we lift twice a week during our spring semester and once a week during our season and also do other core workouts one or two days a week in addition to our lifting.” Men’s captain Connor Lafontaine, a studies of war and peace studies junior from Tolland, Conn., said all the training has paid off.

“The season went great for us. We won several big invitationals, won our conference championship by a wide margin, and placed 13th at the NCAA New England Regional meet. This is our second straight conference championship and our best finish at NCAA Regionals in history.”

For the women, senior Chapel Guarnieri became the first four-time GNAC All-Conference runner in program history, finishing in the top five at the conference meet every season of her career. But with the end of the season, as with any sport, come anxieties about how the next year will go after seniors on the team graduate. The runners are holding out for great hopes for the next season.

“We had several freshmen have strong opening seasons, including Adam Saucier, Jack McNally, and Nathan Paladino. We also had strong returners in sophomores Brody Hale and Korey Leonard, and senior Cameron Connelly. Regardless of where you finish on the team we all support and push each other to become better runners,” said Lafontaine.

With hopes of continuing their winning string into another season, the men’s team is continuing to train hard. “We spend a lot of time together both during the week and on the weekends,” said Lafontaine. But though it is off-season, a few of the team members will race in several track meets in the winter and spring to stay in shape, said Lafontaine.

“We need a strong base to work off and to prepare our bodies for a long, demanding season. Our fastest time on the team is 25:51, with the average being in the 27 minute range.” That boils down to about a consecutive five-minute mile for five miles – a very demanding pace.

According to Cooper, “We had eight guys earn all-conference at our conference championship and four women earn all-conference. Jack McNally, a freshmen rook, also earned conference rookie of the year. And one of our other goals this year is for our women’s team to earn the status of an All-Academic Team for the fifth year in a row.”

Besides staying in shape, the teams will need to avoid the injuries that are prone to happen even though cross country is typically a non-contact sport. “This year we had people spiked [stepped on by others wearing track spikes], we had someone get elbowed in the eye, and another get hit in the nose so that he ran the entire race with blood spurting out of his nose,” said Cooper.

Another major hurdle for repeating the stellar year is runners being plagued by sickness. “Our main obstacle is making sure we stay healthy. Our athletes could be in the best shape of their life but if they get the flu the day before one of our championship races, it can ruin our season,” noted Cooper.

Still, Cooper has very high hopes for the next season and is very ambitious about completing new goals. “In terms of cross country we would like to have the men win their third conference championship in a row and have the women win back-to-back conference championships.”

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