As fans of schools as close as the University of Richmond and VCU, and as far away as Amherst, Mass. and St. Louis, Mo., made their way to exit Pole Green Park following Saturday’s Atlantic 10 Conference Cross Country Championships, it was clear that among the winners Saturday was Hanover County.
As LaSalle University captured the men’s team and individual titles and Duquesne University claimed its first-ever A-10 women’s crown, coaches, officials, and fans raved about not just the course at Pole Green, used regularly by high school meets featuring teams from across the state, but at the facilities and how well the University of Richmond teamed with the conference and park to host the event.
The University of Richmond bid on hosting the Atlantic 10 event in Hanover, just as cities bid to host Olympic Games. And, by all indications, the Atlantic 10’s first foray to Pole Green will not be its last.
Being the host team, the Richmond women’s team took full advantage of their knowledge of the course to begin their race among the favorites, led by 2011 women’s individual champion Jill Prentice.
“We’ve been practicing here once or twice a week for about the past two years,” Prentice, a senior, said. “We know every nook and cranny, every sharp turn.”
And, compared to the travel schedules of teams from St. Louis, Philadelphia and elsewhere, a 20-minute bus ride to the event site does wonders for a key part of a runner’s body.
“It’s a lot easier on the legs just not having to travel,” Prentice explained. “It makes the stress level a lot lower and we feel a lot fresher.”
All of those elements, plus her talent, helped Prentice race among the leaders as they emerged from their first trip into the wooded part of the course. As one mile turned into two, it became a two-woman race between Prentice and Bethany Sachtleben of George Mason. Sachtleben decided to make her break for the lead, all the while worried about the hometown favorite responding.
“I was really scared that [Prentice] was going to recover. I just had to keep going, and not let up,” Sachtleben said.
Prentice concurred with her competitor’s synopsis.
“With a mile to go, she had a little surge, and I didn’t have the extra push. Race experience and knowing your own body and its limits is key to knowing. When she made the push with a mile to go, I knew I couldn’t hold it together for another mile,” Prentice recalled. “I decided to push it with 1,000 yards to go, but my push wasn’t enough to catch her.”
Sachtleben was victorious in 16:54.6. Prentice finished second at 17:02.7. Spider teammate Marisa Ruskan placed eighth in 17:24.2 to earn top women’s rookie honors among freshman competitors. Richmond also sported a true hometown favorite, junior Taylor Clevinger, who hails from Mechanicsville and graduated from St. Catherine’s School. She finished 103rd in a time of 20:12.6.
But it was Duquesne who placed six runners in the top 20, three of them in the top 10, to secure the team victory with 53 points, followed by Richmond with 73 points.
On the men’s side, the Explorers of LaSalle ran with purpose, led by men’s individual champion Nico Greco, who finished the 8K course in 23:46.9. LaSalle as a team finished with 27 points, placing four runners in the top eight finishers for the runaway win. It was the Explorers’ ninth championship in their Atlantic 10 history. Greco was strong from the start, surging to the front of the pack and breaking away from his competitors as the runners made their second and final trip through the spectators gathered between the start and finish line areas just over halfway through the race.
The top men’s finisher for Richmond was senior Jason Skipper, placing 21st at 24.41.4. As a team, the Spider men placed eighth overall with 194 points.
As for the other “home” team, VCU, the top men’s finisher was junior Mohamed Adam, placing 34th at 24:54.7, while the first lady Ram to cross the finish line was freshman Ariel Briales. Her finishing time of 18:40.7 was good for 59th place overall out of 111 participants.
Prentice will now lead a contingent of Spiders eligible to compete in the NCAA Southeast Cross Country Regional Championships on Nov. 15 just an hour away in Charlottesville.