By Jason Perry, Arts & Features Staff Writer
Runners swept along the woods at Asheville Christian Academy for UNC Asheville’s home cross country meet this past Saturday.
The meet consisted of a men’s 8k race and a women’s 5k. After the college races were finished, two high school 5ks followed.
The course was mostly flat and snaked along the woods and farm behind the academy. The whole area is surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains, and the view was just as good as the racing conditions being 65 degrees with little to no wind.
Overall, the men’s team placed second, with a third place finish from Dominic Collichio, 25:32.66, who was seven seconds off the top pace. Andy Thornburg placed sixth with 26:09.36, and Nathan Kirse finished seventh with a time of 26:13.19.
Adam Puett, head men’s distance coach, was hoping for the win, but he was pleased with his top three runners.
“I thought that our front three guys did a great job of sticking to the game plan and racing hard,” Puett says. “I think what happened is our four, five, six and seven runners didn’t push hard enough in the middle miles. I have some work to do with them to get them mentally prepared to cover moves and race people.”
Puett said he saw some of his runners really step up their game this race.
“The person who I was most proud of today was Nathan,” Puett says. “He is a walk-on guy who worked his tail off for the past three years and worked really hard over the summer. He had really bought into the program, and I’m really proud of him for that. He stepped into a role that maybe someone a few years ago would not expect of him.”
Collichio, Asheville’s highest finisher, was another person who Puett says impressed him in this race.
Collichio ran his first 8k in almost two years. Collichio red-shirted his freshman year, and last year found himself injured throughout the whole cross country season.
This year, Collichio is back, and stronger and healthier than ever. He is normally known for his strong finishes, but Puett says Collichio’s strong push in the middle miles is what made his race so successful.
“I went out pretty conservative through the first mile,” Collichio says. “I think we hit about 5:04, and then I felt good through the second and third miles, kind of relaxed behind Western Carolina’s first and second guys. After three miles, it seemed like the guy leading the race fell back a lot, and then the guy in second really turned on the jets. It started to string out by the fourth mile, and then there were two A&T guys who made a good push home through the last two miles. Once I saw the finish line I started sprinting, and I finished third.”
On the women’s side, the Bulldogs dominated the meet, finishing first overall.
Sarah Heisner,18:38.30, placed second followed by Kelsie Rubino in third, 18:51.74. Erin Dalton, 18:54.76, and Casey Greenwalt, 18:58.89, finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Jesse Norman, head women’s distance coach, says he strategized a plan for his runners. He organized three groups of runners to stay together for the first mile, ensuring they go out at a good pace. After the second mile, the girls split up and ran in pairs of two pushing each other to stay together and finish strong.
“It seemed to work pretty well,” Norman says. “It may be something we will stick with. It’s always nice to get a win.”
Heisner, Asheville’s highest finisher, says she thinks Norman’s plan worked very well. She was paired with Rubino.
“Kelsie and I worked together and pushed each other to the end,” Heisner says. “I’m really happy I finished second, and I wasn’t expecting it.”
Norman says the women’s training is just getting started, and he is going to start incorporating more speed.
“We still have some work to do,” Norman says. “We are coming out of our base phase right now and we plan to transition into some faster stuff. They ran what they did today off of some tempo’s and 200m hills.”
Norman says he was very proud to see the women’s team finish first, and he is excited for the future.
The next race for the Bulldogs will be at the USC Upstate Invitational, which is the Big South Preview race in Spartanburg, S.C. on Oct. 3.