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November 5, 2009

Mulherin and Cornwall post all-conference efforts at ACC championships

By: Matt Kovatch

Sophomore Will Mulherin placed seventh at the ACC Championships to lead the Hokies and to earn the first all-conference honor of his cross country career.

It wasn’t quite the finish he was hoping for, but sometimes, that’s the roll of the dice in the sport of cross country.

Virginia Tech head cross country coach Ben Thomas took the Hokies to the ACC Championships in Cary, N.C., on Oct. 31 with expectations of a top-3 team finish and four all-conference individual efforts on the men’s side, but it wasn’t to be. Sophomore Will Mulherin placed seventh individually and senior Devin Cornwall took 13th to get Tech halfway there, but the rest of the squad underperformed as the Hokies finished fifth in the team standings.

“Going into the season, we realistically thought that we had four all-conference guys,” Thomas said. “But everyone has bad days. We’ll face a lot of the same teams in the NCAA regional [which takes place Nov. 14 in Louisville, Ky.], and if we can get four guys as all-region performers, it would be some nice redemption.”

Despite the strong efforts from Mulherin and Cornwall, who were near the front of the 109-runner field, Tech’s third finisher, Matt Kroetch, didn’t cross the line until 30 runners had done so before him.

One reason for the disappointing effort was some bad health on the Hokies’ part. Reliable senior Paul LaPenna was banged up injury-wise and finished 45th overall, sophomore Brian Welch was suffering from a sinus infection and finished 58th, and sophomore Michael Hammond, who finished 15th as a freshman last year, dropped out of the race after 500 meters.

“He [Hammond] has acid reflux problems, and that day, he basically locked up and couldn’t breathe,” Thomas said. “That was obviously a huge hit for us.”

With three guys at less than full strength, Tech was faced with a challenge greater than it could overcome.

“We have some talented guys, but depth-wise, we’re certainly not going to out-talent the rest of the ACC,” Thomas admitted. “There is a little more pressure for us because of that and our guys accept that, but we’ve got to be as close to perfect as possible. If one or two guys go down, it really hurts in terms of being a top-3 ACC team. It’s a challenge to have our five best guys all be healthy at the same time every two or three weeks. That’s the challenge of cross country – you don’t get to come back every week and try it again.”

Another reason for Tech’s fifth-place finish may have been the course conditions. Though all 12 teams obviously were running on the same terrain, it was one with which the Hokies were unaccustomed.

“It was a very fast course and a very fast-paced race,” Thomas said. “If you look at the times, it was one of the fastest ACC meets ever. The surface was really hard-packed and firm and dry. It was the first race we’ve had all season that wasn’t on a sloppy course, so I think the pace shocked us a little bit. The course for the regional is all grass, which is typically what we’re used to training on and more comfortable with.”

With the ACC meet now behind them, the Tech men will get back to the grind in preparation for the regional meet, which determines who gets a chance to compete at the NCAA Championships on Nov. 23.

“The regional meet is really what we’ve been training for all year,” Thomas said. “Although we certainly want to perform well at the ACC meet, we’ve been aiming toward Nov. 14 and really trying to have a good race there. Last year, we had a really good race at the ACC meet, but in the regional, it didn’t turn out too well for us. We’re hoping to turn the tables on that, but sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the right guys healthy and strong on the same day.”

Women’s team places 10th

While expectations were rather high for the men’s cross country team, they were quite the opposite for the women’s team heading into the meet. After all, there are no seniors and only three juniors on the entire roster, and the team lost its top four runners from a season ago. Not shockingly, the women placed 10th in the 12-team field on Oct. 31.

“Our women have trained really hard and the efforts were good,” Thomas said. “As a team, they’re basically all walk-ons and they’re competing against some of the best in the nation. It’s definitely a rebuilding year for us, but it was a good experience for them.”

Junior Jessica Trapeni led the way with a 49th-place finish, while sophomores Sammy Dow and Lauren Lemieux were next for the Hokies in 62nd and 63rd, respectively. While there were no individual standouts, it is important to point out that, for much of the women’s team, this was probably the biggest race they’ve yet to run.

“A lot of these girls were more middle-distance specialists in high school, so they’re still getting used to sustaining their pace over six kilometers,” Thomas said. “Now we’re trying to get some longer-distance types who can come in and be competitive in cross country right away. If we land some recruits now, we’ll have a more complete team next year.”