Tech squads strong during 2017 cross country campaign

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – In past years, the cross country season served as simply training for the distance runners, as they prepared for the upcoming track and field season.

But the Virginia Tech men’s and women’s distance squads approached cross country with a much more serious outlook these days. As a result, they have reached contender status in the ACC. On an annual basis, too.

The two programs concluded the cross country season in mid-November and enter track and field season – which starts Saturday at the Nittany Lion Challenge in State College, Pennsylvania – feeling good about what transpired. Top-three finishes at the ACC Championships tend to do that.

Buoyed by fifth-year seniors Daniel Jaskowak, Patrick Joseph and Neil Gourley and the emergence lead runner Peter Seufer, the Tech men’s team finished second at the ACC Championships, second at the NCAA Southeast Regional and qualified for the NCAA Championships for just the seventh time in program history. The Tech men came in 20th at the NCAA meet and finished at No. 20 in the final United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association national poll.

Seufer led the way, finishing as the Hokies’ top runner in five of the six races in which he competed. He got plenty of help, too, as Jaskowak and Joseph earned All-ACC and All-Southeast Region honors for the second time in their careers and Gourley earned All-ACC honors for the first time.

“It’s really been a great ride with this group of seniors,” Tech cross country head coach Ben Thomas said. “They represent the most successful class in the history of our program between what they’ve done in cross country and track and field. I told them during the season, ‘I don’t want this season to end.’ We will really miss these guys, both in their performances and their personalities.”

Graduation wipes out a chunk of the men’s lineup, but a strong nucleus returns for later this fall. Seufer jumped onto the national scene when he came in second at the prestigious Adidas Pre-National, and then he recorded top-10 finishes at the ACC Championships and the NCAA Southeast Regional.

Vincent Ciattei, Diego Zarate and Jack Joyce return as well. Ciattei earned All-ACC honors after coming in 18th at the league meet, and Joyce just missed All-ACC honors after a 27th-place finish.

But Thomas will need for younger runners to emerge – guys like Owen Buck and Fitsum Seyoum. Both have been in the program for two years and should be ready to take the next step in their development.

“I think Peter is going to be special,” Thomas said. “He has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Will Mulherin and Tommy Curtin [two former ACC cross country champions]. I believe Fitsum can and will step it up next fall as well.”

Fortunately, Tech’s deep lineup afforded Thomas the luxury of redshirting his entire freshman class. Local product Ben Fleming from Blacksburg offers a lot of potential, along with Bashir Mosavel-Lo, Will Griffen and Osman Humeida. All will have an opportunity to burst into Tech’s lineup.

On the women’s side, Tech suffered a bitter end to a very good season, as the ladies missed out on an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships despite finishing third at the ACC Championships and fourth at the NCAA Southeast Regional. The fourth-place finish at the regional marked the program’s second-best performance ever at the regional meet, while the third-place finish at the conference meet equaled last year’s result – the program’s best since joining the league.

Katie Kennedy again paced the women’s team. The lone senior on the squad, Kennedy won the season-opening Hokie Invite and was Tech’s top finisher in all four races in which she competed. She earned All-ACC honors after coming in 19th at the league meet, and she followed that by earning All-Southeast Region honors with a 15th-place finish at the regional meet.

As a two-time All-ACC and All-Southeast Region choice, Kennedy will be tough to replace, but she enjoyed some help this past season, especially from sophomores Kayla Richardson and Sarah Edwards. Richardson, a Blacksburg High product, earned All-ACC honors after coming in 20th at the league meet, and she added all-region honors with a 22nd-place finish at the regional meet. Edwards, too, earned all-region honors by coming in 24th.

The Tech women should be poised for a big 2018, as everyone except for Kennedy returns to the lineup. In addition to the return of Richardson and Edwards, Sara Freix and Lauren Berman come back, and both finished in the top 50 at the regional meet this past fall. Rachel Pocratsky, Laurie Barton and Ellie Brush also figure to make gains heading into next fall, along with two who took redshirts this past season – Katy Lobeda and Emily Schiesl.

“I sense the women’s team is building something special,” Thomas said. “We’ve been third at the ACC meet for two years in a row now, and we just missed the NCAAs by a couple of points. I think the ladies have set themselves up for the future, and they’ve set themselves up for a great track season this spring, too.”

So both Tech distance squads appear to be in great shape going forward. As the ACC is quickly learning, the Hokies approach cross country with more than just training in mind these days.

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