Post-clubs commentary by Coach Jerry
We had a truly phenomenal day at Clubs, with excellent performances across the board.
The headline was the amazing 6th place finish of the women's team, which was the best result for men or women in GRC history.
When I analyzed the entries last week, I was confident that despite a very strong field, which included the entire top 10 from 2015 as well as some strong squads that did not compete last year, if we ran well a top 10 finish was a realistic goal. Being the eternal optimist, I felt that if everything went perfectly, we might be able to place as high as 7th. To finish 6th in such a competitive field was beyond my most ambitious hopes, and I could not be more proud of that result.
The team result was the product of excellent individual performances, led by Steph's outstanding 26th place, in 20:37, which is the second best placing ever at Clubs by a GRC athlete. Steph has proven this fall that she is a national caliber runner, and her dramatic improvement will continue in 2017.
Emily made a stellar GRC debut, finishing 29th in 20:41, which is the third best placing in GRC history. Emily is a truly superb talent, and we're going to see great things from her in the future.
Frances was 57th in 21:18, the 5th best finish in GRC history, and that was a significant improvement over her outstanding run last year. Maura ran the best race of her career, finishing an excellent 60th, in 21:21.
Maura does not want to admit that she is an outstanding xc runner, but she proved the point conclusively on Saturday.
In her first xc race in 11 years, Kerry was 70th, in 21:34, to cap off an excellent late season foray into shorter races, which is going to make her a better marathoner going forward.
Elena ran a very strong race to close out her outstanding rookie season with GRC, placing 76th in 21:43.
Liz was our 7th finisher, placing 98th place in 22:12, which was a major breakthrough for her.
Elyssa was 119th in 22:42, followed closely by Hannah in 22:44, and they both fought hard for their teammates. Alyson and Lindsay B ran strong races, finishing in 23:55 and 24:34, respectively, and they are relieved to know that they won't have to run that far again until Clubs 2017.
This was truly a fantastic performance from the entire team, and every one of our athletes played a part in our great result.
To put into context how much depth we had, prior to Saturday the 5th best all time GRC women's performance at Clubs was 76th place. In Tallahassee, our 6th finisher was 76th place. To further illustrate the point regarding our depth, if Steph had been disqualified for throwing one of her competitors to the ground with a horse collar tackle (which is something she is known to do now and again), and we had scored our 2d-6th finishers, we would have placed 9th. Considering that our previous best women's finish was 10th, that is impressive indeed.
I am beyond proud of our women, who came together when it counted, and ran as a team to achieve an incredible result. The women have made amazing progress since 2011 when our first team at Clubs competed with 5 athletes, one of whom could have run in the masters race, and we're just getting started.
Next year, we're going for the podium!
The men also ran extremely well, placing 12th in a talented field, which is the second best men's result in GRC history.
Luke led the way, placing 78th in 31:13. This was Luke's 4th appearance at Clubs for GRC, and it was his most impressive performance so far considering the myriad health issues he has been dealing with. Luke is now back close to full fitness, and I'm excited to see continued progress from him.
Stewart was 80th in 31:15, which is a 10k PR, and he did it the hard way, getting out way too aggressively and hanging on in the second half of the race. Stewart learned a valuable lesson in tactics, and he will be better for it as he continues to develop into a true A level runner.
Phil ran a very strong, consistent race, finishing in 87th in 31:28.
David M ran his best race in a GRC jersey, finishing an excellent 100th place in 31:42. Cabell ran a big 10k PR of 31:47, placing 105th, as he continues to work his way back into shape after injury.
Michael made an impressive 10k debut in 32:12, and despite being in uncharted waters at the 10k distance, he fought hard all the way to the tape. Balmer rounded out our A team with a very strong 32:29, which is the kind of reliable race he delivers every year at Clubs.
I was very pleased with the men's performance up and down the line. Our top 3 of Stewart, Phil, and Luke came through, and David and Cabell provided outstanding support. Indeed, the spread from our 1st to 5th man was a mere 34 seconds, which is far and away the tightest pack we've ever had at Clubs. Even without two of our superstars who were unable to make the trip, the men beat several formidable teams that have consistently beaten us in the past, and when we're at full strength next year, we'll be gunning for a return to the top 10.
Ryan, our final A team athlete, was unable to finish after being assaulted mid-race by a less than sportsman-like competitor. Despite the testimony of an athlete from another team who witnessed the incident, the wise folks at USATF did not feel that a deliberate foul that resulted in a painful fall for Ryan (though thankfully it wasn't anything that a few frescas couldn't cure) warranted a disqualification for the perpetrator. Ryan was running hard and would have been in the mix for our top 5, and while his race came to a premature end, I was pleased with his effort, and I'm looking forward to strong performances from him on the track this spring.
The men's B team placed 24th, the best performance ever for a GRC B team, which was good enough to beat all other B teams, and many A teams.
Steve led the way in a strong 32:47, which is an impressive performance as he returns to fitness after a nagging injury.
Evan ran 33:22 in his first xc race since college, and he ran a smart, consistent race, and moved forward with authority in the second half.
Kyle was close behind in 33:28, and although Kyle paid the price for an aggressive start, he is in great shape, and will be ready for some PRs on the track.
Sean ran a steady 33:35, which was the best he could hope for given a nagging injury that continues to limit him.
Greg ran a solid 33:59, followed by Tex Paul in 34:07, Matt in 34:42, Chris in 34:52, and Breezy in 37:51. I was really pleased to have Tex on the starting line, and it is a measure of his love for GRC that no matter how hectic his travel schedule, and how undertrained he is due to his severe time constraints, he makes it to Clubs every year.
Breezy ran his final clubs as an open athlete, and next year as a newly-minted master he will be able to compete on a level playing field, and make some noise.
Speaking of the masters race, Dave Wertz turned in the best performance of his storied career, placing 10th in a loaded field.
Dave's masters debut in 2015 did not go well, to say the least, as he and I grossly underestimated the level of competition, which resulted in an overly ambitious first 5k and a painfully slow second 5k. With an important tactical lesson learned, Dave executed his race plan to perfection, as he got out conservatively and settled in with a large chase pack. Dave bided his time in the middle of that pack for most of the race, and then made a strong move with less than 2k to go. Dave battled to the tape with several athletes, and the finish was so tight that Dave was only 5 seconds out of 5th place.
I've been working with Dave for over 10 years, and to see his transformation from beginner to national caliber master has been truly inspiring. Well done, young fella!
We put a whole lot of time and trouble into preparing for this weekend (after all, those van lists didn't write themselves), and our success was months in the making. It's fair to say that a very small percentage of our athletes view xc as their primary season, but we make Clubs a priority by, among things, allocating a significant portion of our budget to the meet, because it provides us with the one opportunity all year to race as a team in a meaningful competition.
The joy in the room as we celebrated our accomplishments on Saturday night made it clear that our priorities are in order, and I'm already looking forward to even better results next year.