The UNF men and women’s cross country teams traveled to the University of Florida for the Mountain Dew Invitational, but the hills were not the only factor holding them back.
The race took place on the Mark Bostick Golf Course at UF, presenting a challenging path for the runners. The hills of the course probably felt like mountains, and sickness filled the lungs of some runners, preventing them from breathing properly.
The men’s team placed seventh overall, led by senior Will Pearce, who ran a time 26:19.77 for the 8,000 meters and took 28th place.
Less than three seconds later, junior Mike Strasser finished in 29th place with a time of 26:21.21.
The men’s team totaled 205 points, beating the University of South Florida but falling short to conference rival Florida Gulf Coast. UF took the title with 22 points, followed by Embry-Riddle and Florida Southern with 96 and 125 points, respectively.
The biggest factor for the race was that sickness affected both the men’s and women’s team, said head coach Mark VanAlstyne.
“We reacted pretty quick when we saw it was coming on and kind of got them on a schedule of rest and really backed off the workouts and shut down totally for two more days,” he said.
Neither team was at its full strength during the race, hindering their overall performances.
“I’m really proud of them, the fact that we were able to even come here and be competitive today, and obviously from looking at the women’s race we were competitive,” VanAlstyne said.
On the women’s side, the Ospreys finished in fourth place, led by sophomore Shelby Kittrell who finished in fourth place with a time of 17:38.17 for the 5,000 meter race. Junior Erin Nixon followed with a time 18:09.37, placing 12th overall.
The Ospreys fell short to UF, who won the meet, and conference rival Jacksonville University, as well as USF. The women’s team also felt the hit of the sickness going around the UNF campus.
Running for 3.1 miles consecutively while their immune systems are down with sickness challenges the athletes.
“It is difficult to train around here for hills,” Nixon said. “[The race] wasn’t too difficult, but it was better this year because it was in the morning.”
Last year’s race took place in the middle of the afternoon in the heat of the day.
“This course is always difficult, the big determinate here is the weather,” VanAlstyne said. “If you get it here like it was last year, 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity, it’s a bear. It may be the toughest course around.”
VanAlstyne said he knows once the runners return to full strength from their illness, the team’s performance will improve.
“We have the personnel to do well, I don’t think [the runners] will be happy with today’s results, never mind that they were sick,” VanAlstyne said. “They’re going to look at it, and they’re going to let that motivate them to go ahead and get better before the next meet and certainly before conference.”
Nixon also believes conference is something to strive for this year, possibly taking the Atlantic Sun Conference title, she said.
“I think we can win conference. We are improving,” Nixon said. “We had personal bests for most girls, although we didn’t beat JU, we will with more months of training.”
Key runners that were unable to compete at the Mountain Dew Invitational were junior Cameron Dickerson and sophomore Ecaterina Gheorghiu.
Dickerson is anticipating running in the next meet, he said. VanAlstyne said Dickerson will run next meet and Gheorghiu is probable, VanAlstyne said.
Their next meet takes place Oct. 8 at Florida State University for the Seminole Invitation.