By Jayden Presley, Sports editor
UM’s cross-country athletes reflected on the season and how they prepared for the NCAA Division II South Regional Championship in Florida.
Joe Leventry, a senior business management major with a minor in accounting, is a mid-distance runner on the men’s cross-country team, specializing in the 1500m/1 mile. He praised the cross-country program’s efforts during his time at UM.
“Watching this team grow over the last four years into the hyper-dedicated, tight knit bonded team that we are now has been something special,” said Leventry. “The team culture has grown significantly since I began my first year here in 2018. Everybody has their special spot on the team whether you are the fastest or slowest on the team.”
He finished fifth with a time of 24:28.01, just 8 seconds from his personal best, at the Gulf South Conference Championships in Clinton, Miss. on Oct. 23. This earned Leventry a spot on the All-GSC 1st-team. The men’s team finished in fourth place overall to advance to regionals.
Leventry said it has been impressive to watch the younger athletes learn from each race and adapt to intense workouts this season.
“One of our sophomores on the team, Drew Roberts, has dropped 90 seconds from his previous best 8000m time in just one year. This is because of an accumulation of hard work and dedication since he got here,” said Leventry. “For a lot of these guys, they’re just touching the tip of the iceberg, and they have tons of potential to grow and prosper over the next years.”
Though his reflection of the team is special to him, Leventry said this season went differently than he envisioned.
He faced an IT band injury the last week of the summer, which kept him from training for nearly three weeks. Leventry suffered another injury to his ankle when he returned for his first run, adding another week of recovery time.
“I have to credit my quick recoveries from these injuries to our athletic trainer, Kailin Parker,” said Leventry. “Just about every day of this season, I have gone to the athletic training room at 8 a.m. after practice. She works with me to make sure I stay healthy.”
He said this year’s course at the GSC Championships was “substantially more difficult than last year’s.” Before regionals occurred on Nov. 6, Leventry said he was looking for another top five individual finish to secure his spot at NCAA nationals and a top four team finish to go to NCAA nationals.
Leventry said he mentally prepared for regionals by staying relaxed and not over-stressing.
“Luckily, we have a brilliant coaching staff with Coach Tommy Barksdale and Coach Julia Marquardt that got me back to where I need to be while staying smart and keeping injury at bay,” said Leventry. “I know that the coaches have given us what we need to be prepared to race and I am confident in our team and the work they have put in this season.”
Joseph Pitard, also known as “Joe Pa”, is a junior majoring in history. Due to his injuries his first season and the COVID-19 pandemic his second season, Nov. 6 marked his first appearance at a GSC regional meet.
Pitard said he has steadily improved as the season progressed. He finished 21st at the GSC Championships on Oct. 23 with a time of 25:03.91.
“Going into this Saturday, I am expecting more from myself than usual because of what is at stake,” said Pitard. “This is the meet that determines who goes to nationals and how our team compares to the rest of the nation.”
Pitard, like Leventry, said relationships on the team have been very close this season.
Coach Tommy Barksdale is the head coach for both cross country and track and field programs, with Coach Julia Marquardt serving as associate head coach to focus on the women’s teams.
Barksdale said the teams have come a long way and are “ready to roll” for regionals, adding that it has been great for him to see their progression.
“The major thing I tell the men’s team is to focus on us,” said Barksdale. “We can’t get carried away with what other teams do. If we keep doing what we have been doing great things will continue to happen.”
As for women’s cross-country, Caroline Hendon said the team’s atmosphere is “unbeatable.” A sophomore biology major, she finished 30th at the GSC Championships with a time of 19:22.12. The women’s team finished fifth overall to qualify for regionals.
“This season was great from the get-go! We moved in early and had a preseason before school started where we got to know each other and really create genuine bonds between us,” said Hendon. “I’ve had so much fun this season, and that is solely because of the girls on the team.”
COVID cases at the beginning of the season caused setbacks for the women’s team, but Hendon said everyone has given their all to prepare for regionals. She is nicknamed “Mama Caro” due to the motherly role she has taken on the team.
Hendon said she took pressure off herself this season by enjoying running and not setting time goals, which improved her personal record by 34 seconds. She added that she mentally prepared for regionals by distracting herself with schoolwork to relieve anxiety.
“I remind myself that I’m not running for myself, but for my team. While I’m running workouts, I like to picture myself like I’m in the race and run harder at the points where I know I will hurt,” she said. “I also visualize myself racing when we run our course preview. Doing this helps me see where a hard part of the course is or where there is a good spot to pass other runners.”
The UM cross-country teams competed in Saint Leo, Flo. for the NCAA Division II South Regional Championship. The men’s team finished eighth, and the women’s team finished 12th overall out of 18 teams.
As for the runners’ personal results, Leventry finished 11th for the men’s championship 10K with a time of 32:27.01, and Pitard placed 47th with a time of 34:10.27. Hendon came in 78th place for the women’s championship 6K with a time of 25:19.48.
Leventry returned to Florida for the NCAA Division II Men’s Cross-Country Championships on Nov. 20. According to the UM Athletics page, he is the first men’s qualifier for UM cross-country. He finished 172 out of 245 runners in the men’s 10K race, with a time of 33:28.8.