Distance preview with Ben Thomas

BLACKSBURG – After a stellar year for Virginia Tech’s track and field program, there is much to be excited about entering the 2018 indoor and outdoor seasons.

The program earned three ACC titles, set numerous school records and returns the majority of the student-athletes who accomplished the impressive feat.

Assistant coach Ben Thomas, who oversees the distance group, sat down with Virginia Tech’s HokieVision and answered questions for the upcoming season. To watch the video of the interview in its entirety, click here.

The key returners for the group on the men’s side are Vincent Ciattei, Neil Gourley, Daniel Jaskowak, Patrick Joseph, Peter Seufer and Diego Zarate. Ciattei (indoor mile), Gourley (outdoor 1,500 meters), Joseph (indoor 800 meters) and Seufer (outdoor 10,000 meters) all won their respected events at ACCs this past season. The six some has combined for 26 All-ACC honors.

On the women’s side, the key student-athletes coming back to Blacksburg are Laurie Barton, Sarah Edwards, Katie Kennedy, Rachel Pocratsky and Kayla Richardson. Edwards took first at the outdoor ACC Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, while Pocratsky owns the indoor 1,000-meter run school record. The quintet has combined for eight All-ACC honors.

The distance group welcomes four newcomers (Ellie Brush, Lizzie Buckley, Katy Lobeda, Emily Schiesl) on the women’s side and eight on the men’s side (Ben Fleming, Will Griffen, Osman Humeida, Bashir Mosavel-Lo, William Shaffer, Thierry Siewe Yanga, Dave Whitfield and Zachary Witt) this upcoming season.

Q: In the distance group, last year was incredible with 10 combined titles. How was that accomplished?

THOMAS: “Well, I think it started with our seniors in that group, it’s really been a special group. They bought in early and have been really good on focusing on themselves and not so much in a league like the ACC where there is so many All-Americans. We had to defeat a former NCAA champion in some of those events just to get that ACC title. So I think our kids just did an excellent job of just showing up every day and focusing on the next day and not what the competition had done coming in, not where they were ranked coming into the meet. But the seniors that had come in before them had set that standard of on the day, anything can happen. And especially if you have prepared and have done the work to make anything happen and that group certainly did that. For a lot of those upperclassmen doing that, it was nothing new, nothing they hadn’t seen before. But it still really sweet when it comes true. I think some of the younger ACC champions we had, some of the underclassmen we had, set a tone that it can be done. That has led to some good recruiting wins with more talent coming in and we have some younger champions, which is always fun.”

Q: Three redshirt seniors (Neil Gourley, Daniel Jaskowak and Patrick Joseph) have indoor eligibility this upcoming season. How excited are you to see what they can do one final time together?

THOMAS: “We had a talk with them, kind of the beginning of the last with such a great group of seniors. We started with cross country and it was like you didn’t want the season to end because they have just been so clutch. They have been such great ambassadors for our program and school. So, I’m going to enjoy it. Yes, I’m going to take, not just the meets, but enjoying the last hard cycle of practices with these guys. And hopefully we get them to the line about to run the best races of their lives. That would be something pretty special if we could do that.”

Q: What are your expectations going into this season, especially with a talented group of newcomers?

THOMAS: “I’m hoping with the guys, which have obviously had some success, and the girls, with them winning the outdoor title, it’s just always fun to have more people on the same mission. And I think the girls see it is obviously attainable now to win a title as well. So, I’m just really excited to have more people in it to win it, not just physically but mentally, and I think we got a real chance to do that. It should be a fun season.”

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