ELON, N.C. – The Elon University cross country programs will travel to Newark, Del., for the site of the 2016 Colonial Athletic Association Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Oct. 29. The meet will be held at the White Clay Creek State Park with the starting gun for the men’s 8K race slated for 10 a.m. followed by the women’s 6K run at 11 a.m.
“We’ve been talking about this meet since camp,” said Elon head cross country coach Nick Polk. “It’s been a long time coming, looming there in the distance all season. It’s pretty crazy that it’s here already, but we’re looking forward to seeing what we got and putting everything on the line on Saturday.”
Updates of the meet will be posted on Twitter at the programs’ handle, @EU_XCTF. Other updates will also be provided at the handle, @elonscores.
Around the CAA
The Phoenix will face several top regional teams and performers in both the men’s and women’s races at the league championships. On the men’s side, William & Mary (ranked No. 8 in the recent Southeast Regional rankings) will look to capture its 17th straight team title as the Tribe finished with 21 points last season to win its 23rd team championship overall. Northeastern was the runner-up last year with 67 points while Elon was third with 81.
William & Mary (No. 2 in the Southeast Regional poll) also took the league team championship for the fourth straight time on the women’s side last season and comes into the meet as one of four regionally ranked teams along with Elon (No. 10 in Southeast), James Madison (No. 13 in Southeast) and Towson (No. 14 in Mid-Atlantic). JMU was the runner-up to the Tribe a season ago at the CAAs with 54 points while the Phoenix was third with 66.
“It’s such a small meet in terms of the field size, but it’ so competitive,” said Polk. “The small size of the field just makes everything really close, personal and competitive. My last two years in this conference has shown that anything can happen, the race doesn’t always work out how you think, but one thing that it has also proved is that it is going to be close, especially on the women’s side as it has been the last two years.”
Last Time Out
Elon concluded its regular season meets during the weekend of Oct. 14-15. Majority of the squad competed at the VertKlasse XC Invitational on Oct. 14, while select others competed at the NCAA Pre-Nationals meet.
At the VertKlasse Invitational, freshman Molly Offstein led the Phoenix women in the 6K race with her time of 22:48.55 and a 39th-place standing out of 207 competitors. In the men’s race, fellow rookie Ian Mickool took top honors for the Elon men after clocking a 26:18.37 – a new personal-best – in the 8K race and finished 54th out of 234 runners. Overall, the Phoenix men finished 14th as a team out of 22 programs.
The following day at the NCAA Pre-Nationals, Nick Ciolkowski earned a top-three finish in the men’s 8K white race – two seconds from a second-place finish with his time of 24:48.1. In the women’s 6K blue race, the Phoenix harriers was 32nd overall against some of the top programs in the country. Senior Kimberly Johansen was Elon’s top runner in the women’s 6K blue race with her time of 21:04.6 and was 57th overall.
Ciolkowski heads into the CAA meet as the defending individual champion after capturing the title during his freshman year last season. The Fairport, N.Y., native edged out a runner near the finish line in last year’s race and became the first athlete to be named both the CAA Men’s Cross Country Runner and Rookie of the Year. This season, he has had another breakthrough year setting a new personal-record in the 8K at the Greater Louisville Classic with a time of 24:16.01 and receiving three league weekly accolades.
“Nick is calm and confident going into the meet,” said Polk. “But he also understands and respects the talent level that’s in the field. It’s not like he dominated that field at all last year, but it worked out in his favor to win by a step or two. It’s not like he’s coming in as this giant favorite and while he’s coming in confident, he also knows that he’s going to have to have a great race to win by a step or however much it can happen.”
The men will strive to earn its highest Division I finish ever at a conference meet doing so with a young team as most of its members will be racing at the CAAs for the first or second time. Richie Kasper was the Phoenix’s top finisher at the Elon Invitational on Sept. 10, and also received a CAA Runner of the Week award as a result. Junior Carlos Andino is the lone member of the team to compete at the league championships more than twice and brings experience to the squad.
“Nick’s confidence drives how much the others are performing too,” said Polk. “For the men’s group, things have clicked a lot more in races then they had last year so the guys are going in with a positive attitude for the meet.”
The women’s side has high expectations for the meet after coming into the year with its highest regional ranking ever at No. 6 in the Southeast Preseason poll. The Phoenix returns five athletes that competed at last year’s meet including its top finisher in Johansen, who earned All-CAA accolades with a sixth-place standing. This year, Johansen broke the 5K school-record at the Greater Louisville Classic and earned CAA weekly accolades for the first time in her career.
The Phoenix will also look for big performances from fellow senior Shelby Cuddeback at the league championships as well as reigning CAA Women’s Cross Country Rookie of the Year in sophomore Coralea Geraniotis. Geranitotis was the Phoenix’s top runner at the Elon Invitational and earned the CAA Women’s Cross Country of the Week award on Sept. 10. Juniors Brigid Brennan and Corey Weiss will look to make their mark in their third-career league race.
“I’m excited to see who does step up on the women’s side,” said Polk. “We have a really strong group, one of the deepest groups that we’ve had since I’ve been here. We definitely have not put everybody together on the same page yet this year and we normally don’t up to this point. We’re hoping and striving to put everyone on the same page and that they give their best performance of the year.”
Elon heads to the University of Virginia for the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships on Nov. 11.