Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
Fresh from solid performances at their conference meet on Nov. 2, Berry’s men and women’s cross country teams are expecting big things from this Saturday’s regional meet.
The Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference meet, held at Berry on Nov. 2, saw the men’s team finish fourth and the women’s second. While the men finished in their projected spot, Head Cross Country Coach Paul Deaton said the women’s team did better than expected.
“We were third on paper going into the season, we were third on paper going into the meet, and the women finished second,” Deaton said. “So they did get a bit of an upset, and they had tremendous individual performances.”
Berry had three runners earn all-conference awards. Junior Cameron Bensley finished fifth in the men’s race, while seniors Meredith Herman and Alyssa Fowler placed second and fourth, respectively, for the women. Herman had been predicted to win, but she said she was still proud of her efforts and looking forward to getting another chance at regionals.
“I never thought I’d be projected to win, but it got really caught up in my head and I just got really nervous about it and ended up getting second,” Herman said. “But I held on to the girl who placed first as long as I could and tried to pass her at times and pull something out of me trying to get there, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get her. But I will get her at region and nationals.”
While everyone gets to participate at the conference meet, regionals are restricted to seven runners per team, and Deaton said he considered the entire season to pick who that would be.
“We weigh the whole season in picking those seven, but we weigh the conference results the most,” Deaton said. “And in this case we went with the top seven runners at conference to bring to regionals on both men and women’s teams.”
One of those seven for the men’s team is senior Parker Roberts, who finished 17th at conference. Roberts said he is excited for the meet ahead.
“We’re expecting big things this weekend, region’s going to be really fun,” Roberts said. “It’s a huge race, there’s 30 teams and just a ton of runners.”
Deaton said both teams hope to finish in the top 10, with the men’s team ranked ninth and the women’s seventh, but that anything can happen on the day.
“They’ll have to run as well or better than they did at conference, but that’s the whole point,” Deaton said. “The beauty of a championship of that nature is you have to run your best on the right day. There’s other people that are equally good that will compete with you, so nothing’s certain at all.”
Herman, who qualified for nationals last year with a sixth-place finish, said that competition is what pushes her to compete at her best, and she hopes to do even better this year.
“I would really like to get into the top five and get up there with that front pack and really fight again,” Herman said. “The higher up I get at region hopefully means the higher up I’ll get at nationals, and hopefully be an All-American.”
Roberts said that for him, the extra boost comes from knowing this could be his last race for Berry.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure because it’s my senior year and if I don’t make it to nationals this will be my last race, so I have high expectations for myself, but I’ve been preparing for a really long time,” Roberts said. “Either way I’m going to give it my best shot and have a good day, and it will be worth it.”
Roberts said he has been preparing since June, running an average of 70 miles per week, but that the focus at this point in the season turned to the mental aspect of the competition.
“As you get really close to a big performance like region, there becomes less and less you can do to make yourself faster right before the race,” Roberts said. “So we’re tapering a little bit and backing off slightly with the physical training and thinking more about the mental attitude, like how we’re going to approach the race and things like that.”
Deaton agreed and said their preparations change before an event such as regionals. The most important according to him is for the runners to learn how deal with nerves and excitement.
“The biggest difference of all isn’t physical,” Deaton said. “There’s a balance between being mentally excited and ready and nervous for a big race and calming yourself down so that you run within your strengths and do the best you can. So a lot of the preparation that last week isn’t necessarily getting excited, but holding the excitement in check, as part of focusing on that race.”
The regional meet will be held this Saturday at Rhodes College, with the men’s race starting at 11 a.m. CT. The women will then start at 12:15 p.m. CT.