The Virginia cross country team begins its season Saturday in Richmond at the Spider Alumni Open. The event will include a 5K race for the men’s side and a two-mile run for the women.
Saturday’s event gives the athletes a nice way to ease into the year because each race is half what the sides usually run in a meet. UVa director of track and field and cross country Vin Lananna described the event as a “rust buster” as athletes return to the flow of competition.
“We want to practice the things that we need to do in order to be a good team, and we’ll kind of set the stage for what that looks like after this meet this weekend,” Lananna said.
Heading into UVa’s cross country season, here are three things to watch for from the Cavaliers.
Michaela Meyer’s encore
In June, Michaela Meyer became the first female competitor in UVa track and field history to win an individual national title. She took home the 800-meter NCAA championship, finishing the event in 2:00.28.
“I think that obviously her performances, you know an NCAA champion, would indicate that she has mastered her ability to compete at the national level,” Lananna said.
After a stellar spring, Meyer is back for more. The former Delaware athlete turned UVa graduate transfer has eligibility left, and she’ll stay in Charlottesville to compete with the cross country team this fall.
“After cross country season, I’ll be out of eligibility and be a free agent, and hopefully starting my dream as a professional runner,” Meyer posted on Instagram last month. “I plan to stay in Charlottesville until after Worlds 2022.”
Meyer’s potential success this fall and beyond figures to be a major storyline following the program. She’s one of the top athletes at the university, and her future in the sport seems bright.
As for this fall, Lananna seemed just as excited for Meyer’s leadership ability as he did her potential performance. For a program continuing to grow and build itself up on the national level, Meyer’s experience and leadership are invaluable.
Lananna called Meyer “a national caliber leader” who often sets a positive example for the younger athletes.
Influx of young talent
UVa has plenty of underclassmen talent within the cross country program.
On the men’s side, experienced runners such as Rohann Asfaw and Derek Johnson figure to play key roles on the team. They’re joined by a talented group of underclassmen, which includes freshman Nathan Mountain. The Ohio native became the first athlete at his high school to ever break 15 minutes in the 5K race, finishing in 14:46.90 last September.
“He’s a great student, and I think he should be pretty good,” Lananna said.
Freshman Jackson Braddock, a New Jersey native, is another top-tier youngster.
“He’s one of the top five guys in the country, so the combination of both will be pretty powerful,” Lananna said.
On the women’s side, Lananna raved about the incoming class.
Sophie Atkinson, a Texas native, is an exciting prospect. Margot Appleton was the 2019 Rhode Island Gatorade State Cross Country Player of the Year. Caroline Bowe is a Virginia recruit who won the 2019 state title in the 1,000-meter race. Mia Barnett earned 2020-21 Gatorade Player of the Year honors in California.
“The cross country women’s team will be much, much, much improved,” Lananna said. “Michaela Meyer will lead the charges of the returning [upperclassmen] women, but the incoming student-athletes will be really good.”
Gearing toward the future
Lananna enters the season focused on long-term gains. The Cavaliers will host the 2023 NCAA Cross Country Championships, and he’s looking forward to his team’s potential over the next few seasons.
“Both the women and the men are quite strong in terms of developing a culture that is built upon high-level aspirations balanced with reality in that any building process takes a little time,” Lananna said.