Photos courtesy UNC Athletic Communications
For both the men’s and women’s Carolina cross country teams, the upcoming season is one with potential for great growth. Last year, both teams showed potential and room for future success and they will look to build on that this year.
With 12 second-year athletes returning on the men’s side, this year the team will look to improve on what was at times a shaky 2016 campaign. According to coach Mark Van Alstyne, the transition between year one and two is a time of great growth for most athletes as they acclimate to running at the college level. After struggles at times last season, the team had something of a high note with a sixth-place finish at the ACC Championship meet, but Van Alstyne says that they know that that’s not enough. This team has long-term goals of higher finishes, and he feels that they have the potential to meet those goals.
The men's team returns All-ACC performer Logan Carroll who will look to be a veteran leader as a redshirt junior. Van Alstyne notes that the leadership on the men’s side is still discovering themselves, something that could have an impact on the growth of the team this season. The team also gets back four of their seven athletes who competed at the ACC Championships last season. As this team continues to grow their collective experience, the level of performance of the team should trend upward as well. In a sport where relationships and the trust between teammates to always give their best effort are so key, the future for this young team looks bright moving forward.
On the women’s side, the Tar Heel team features both youth and what Van Alstyne himself called great leadership. The team returns 2016 All-ACC runner Morgan Ilse, coming off of her 13th-place finish at the ACC championship meet, as well as 2015 All-ACC runner Carolina Alcorta, one of two seniors on the team who will look to rebound after an injury-plagued 2016 campaign. Overall, the team returns all five athletes who competed at the ACC Championships last season.
Still a young team, the Tar Heel women will look to improve greatly on last season. With all athletes returning from a 2016 team without a senior, as well as three more incoming first-year runners, the sky is the limit for the team this year. It was only three years ago that the women’s squad brought home the title at ACCs. Look for the 2017 team to head back in that direction led by veteran talent, most of which will be returning even after this season. Van Alstyne knows that this team did not reach their full potential last season so as this team grows together, gains more experience, and sharpens their training, the team could be in score for a much higher finish at the conference meet this season.
Both teams open up their seasons September 2nd at the Elon Opener. Two weeks later the Tar Heel teams compete at the Mountains to Sea Open in Boone on September 16th. The head coach said that the early smaller meets are quite important.
“We have team goals each meet and we have individual goals each meet," Van Alstyne said. Our team goal every year in the early meets is really to evaluate all of our athletes and see the fitness levels they bring back from summer training and start getting an idea of who are going to be our athletes to compete at some of the larger meets, so we’ll run more athletes at the early meets.”
He then went on to explain that those larger meets this year will be at Louisville and Penn State, with ten athletes running each of those, all in preparation to determine which runners will toe the line at ACCs and NCAAs later in the season.
On September 30th, the teams will go to the Louisville Classic before going to the Penn State National on October 13th. Both meets will see the Tar Heels facing a higher level of competition against more big name programs before heading to the ACC Championships on October 27th. These meets will also serve as good benchmarks for the teams’ progress, as each meet brings progressively higher stakes, culminating with that ACC Championship meet. After the ACC Championships, the NCAA Southeast Regional will be on November 10th followed by the NCAA Championships on November 18th in Charlottesville, Va. and Louisville respectively. Look for growth from both teams as the season progresses and potential for big finishes at the ACC Championship meet.