Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor
The men’s and women’s cross country teams finished their seasons by placing third and fifth, respectively, at their National Athletic Association (NCAA) regional meets last Saturday, Nov. 12, and top men’s runner Bradshaw Lathbury will advance to national competition this weekend.
Improvement paid off for both teams this season, with the men’s team also repeating as conference champions and set a program-best finish at regionals and the women’s team enjoying their highest conference finish since 2016 despite not having any seniors.
Lathbury, a senior, finished first in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference meet on Oct. 29, leading the Vikings to their second consecutive championship and the second in program history.
While Lathbury said that while his individual conference championship and repeat as SAA Runner of the Year lost some luster this year, he was excited to contribute toward the team’s first place finish.
Head Coach Paul Deaton was selected for the second consecutive year as the SAA Coach of the Year for men’s cross county, an award that he said traditionally follows winning the championship. Deaton described the repeat win as a culmination of two to three years of commitment from the team’s 9 seniors.
“As soon as we finished last year, everyone was like, ‘Let’s do it again,’” Deaton said. “It felt like a year project, and it was very fulfilling to see it through.”
The men reached another goal two weeks later by placing third at the regional meet, beating the program record they set last year by finishing fourth.
This came despite expecting tough competition in the top five, particularly nationally ranked Washington and Lee University, who Lathbury said “destroyed” the Vikings in a meet earlier this season.
Lathbury said that Berry’s runners were neck and neck with those from Washington and Lee during the entire regional meet, but eventually finished one place above the Tridents.
“I was racing for the win and trusting that [my teammates] would battle in the back,” Lathbury said.
Lathbury led the men with a third place finish out of all 164 competitors, placing only behind two All-American runners, or runners within the top 40 D-III runners in the nation. Lathbury and the team’s other top four finishers earned All-Region honors.
Deaton’s goal for both the men’s and women’s teams is always to reach peak performance at regionals, Lathbury said.
The women’s team, which finished second in the SAA conference meet, finished fifth at regionals, tying their program best from 2018 and reaching Deaton’s goal of outperforming their No. 9 ranking.
Women’s team captain Asena Anderson, a junior, said that Deaton pushed the women to start at a faster speed at regionals than they had the entire year.
“[Deaton] expects a lot from us, which I think leads us to believe that we can actually do what he believes we can do,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she and her teammates achieved the best cross country season the team has had since she has been at Berry, a success that she credited to a shared healthy mindset and determination among the runners.
“When it comes to training and racing, when all of us really want it, it makes [us] a lot better,” Anderson said. “Looking at the progress we’ve made, it’s very clear that everyone wants to do well, so much more than we did last year.”
Anderson said many team members set personal bests at the team’s first race of the season, the Converse Kick-Off in South Carolina, and she herself beat a personal best by over one-and-a-half minutes at Converse and has continued to chase that new record time all season.
Without senior leadership, Deaton said that the women’s team faced a potentially difficult season to stay motivated, but that Anderson, her fellow juniors and the sophomores did a good job of rising to the challenge of being the most experienced members on the team.
“I was scared that it started off to early because I wasn’t ready to be the oldest, but I really think next year, we’ll be hopefully better than ever,” Anderson said.
The four freshmen that the women’s team gained this year also added to the team focus this year and make Anderson expect a dynamic team in years to come. Freshman Anna Ayers is already finishing within the same minute as Anderson, the women’s top runner, who said she herself improved greatly from last year thanks to rigorous training in the off-season.
Most of the other runners also finished within the minute of each other, and the best time fluctuated between runners in time trials, or inter-team races.
“This team is only going to get better,” Anderson said. “The girls we have right now are more determined than any of the girls I saw before me, as upperclassmen.”
The men’s team also focused on staying motivated during the season. Deaton said they faced this challenge because only seven runners per team are allowed in each competition, and the team has nine seniors, not to mention underclassmen.
“Depth obviously is an asset in any sport, but there’s also a challenge there for every individual to do the best they can and not just rely on others,” Deaton said. “It’s a great challenge, but it’s still a challenge.”
Lathbury said that team captain Brody Wallace, also a senior, did a good job of leading the team to stay focused in practice and train well to help with recovery from injuries, like the one Lathbury himself suffered before going to run in nationals for the first time with Cameron Bensley (21C) last year.
Finishing as one of the top seven in the region meet qualified Lathbury for nationals again this year.
Lathbury will travel to Lansing, Michigan, to run in the Division III national meet this Saturday, hosted by Michigan State University.
Lathbury, who has never run in the below freezing and snowy conditions projected for the meet, said he is focused on mental preparation. Lathbury said he is thankful to finish out his senior season without injury so that he can focus on running well, not just on finishing the race.
Although his performance will not directly impact Berry’s standing, Lathbury aims to meet a personal goal of finishing in the top 40 to earn the All-American accolade. Lathbury set and met a personal goal to be a top contender in every race this season.
“I’m a little more seasoned, fitter, stronger – just ready and excited to run,” Lathbury said. “I trained for four years straight super hard, striving to get 3000 miles a year. That all kind of [comes] together in one race.”