‘Cats run hard for Mid-Atlantic regional championship

Leslie Combs

Last Saturday in Davis, W.Va. the men were confident they had what it took to advance to the NCAA Cross Country National Championships Nov. 25, but what the ’Cats were unsure of was how much the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship would take out of them.

“I knew we would qualify,” men’s head coach Marcus O’Sullivan explained. “I didn’t have any doubts about that. I didn’t want them to get too charged up with it because it is so hard to come off an emotionally charged race and go out and race well a week later.”

With their coach’s wishes in mind, ’Nova’s seven took to the line Nov. 16 and accomplished their mission, edging out Big East rival Georgetown 40-45. The one-two team performance of the ’Cats and the Hoyas send them to Terre Haute, Ind. for Nationals next week, closing the season’s door for the other 24 teams.

The hilly and muddy course at 3,200 ft. provided ideal cross country conditions for the men to race, and ’Nova’s top three did not let the opportunity go to waste on the 10K course.

“[Adrian] Blincoe, [Jon] Fasulo and [Ryan] Hayden all ran exceptional,” O’Sullivan said. “All three run totally different … it is interesting that they finished so close together.”

Blincoe always goes out strong and taking the lead from the beginning and last week was no exception. From the gun shot, the senior was the ’Cats frontrunner, and remained in the lead pack until it had dwindled down to eventual winner Georgetown’s Mike Smith and Blincoe. Smith won the race in 30:28.9 with Blincoe close on his heels in 30:31.4. Third and fourth went to ’Nova as well when Fasulo and Hayden followed their teammate into the chute. Fasulo continued his strategy of starting out slow and working his way to the front where the senior finished with 30:39.6.

“Fasulo always comes from way back,” O’Sullivan explained of the different racing strategies. “Half-way into the race he was back in the 30s. He comes on way later.”

Hayden started midway to the front, but kicked it into gear in the later half to earn the ’Cats third spot in 30:44.4.

According to O’Sullivan, senior Tom Parlapiano had a rough racing time surrounding conference finals, but was able to bounce back with his regional performance. His ninth place finish in 30:58.9 had ’Nova finishing four of its five runners in the top-10.

The ’Cats No. 5, junior Patt Dunn, crossed the line in 22nd in 31:31.2. His performance was good enough for Regionals, but O’Sullivan stressed that ’Nova’s fifth man is going to have to step it up at Nationals if the ’Cats want to remain a true contender.

Pushing Dunn will be ’Nova’s six and seven likely to be freshman Marc Pelerin and senior Jason Jabaut. Jabaut sat out last week while fill-in Timothy Styler finished 29th in 31:41.9, while Pelerin placed 30th in 31:42.2.

The Wildcats are ranked ninth by the Division I Coaches Association going into Monday’s race, with Stanford unanimously topping the polls with 15 votes.

“Stanford is overwhelmingly favored,” O’Sullivan said. “Even if they lose three of their top guys they can still be in contention. That is how much depth they have. After that it gets wide open.”

If ’Nova is going to take advantage of the room at the top and achieve its goal of placing in the top four it has some work to do.

The team began tapering Wednesday for the race and O’Sullivan’s advice to them is to just go out there and keep running.

“When the gun goes off keep going,” he said. “It is not going to be a tactical thing. Nationals never has been. It is all out from the very beginning.”

On Monday, 20 seconds will not separate two runners as it has so far this season, instead, 20 seconds will separate 20 runners, perhaps the difference between second and 10th place. The seconds will make all the difference. “It really is a time thing,” O’Sullivan said.

The crucial element ’Nova must improve is its first to fifth time spread, meaning the time between the first runner crossing the line to the fifth runner finishing.

Right now it is at one-minute, but to be truly a top contender O’Sullivan feels that the ’Cats must bring it down to 45 seconds.

“It is going to be tough, but I think we can do it,” he said.

Last year the men placed eighth at Nationals. This year they are confident that this is will be the year for ’Nova to solidify its place alongside the nation’s distance elite.