As the Sandhills men's and women's cross country teams loosened up for the college's first-ever cross country meet hosted by Catawba University last Saturday, coach Jeff Moody was encouraged by the demeanors of his runners.
"I could see it in their eyes," he said. "They respected everybody, but there was no fear. I knew we would be competitive because we put the work in. I told them to just trust what we have been doing and we'll do fine."
The Flyer men finished fifth in a field of 13 teams at the Chick-Fil-A Invitational held at Salisbury Community Park. Wingate won the team title. Louisburg College was the only other junior college in the field of mostly NCAA Division II teams. Daniel Taylor came in 17th and Chance Goodman finished in 23rd place to lead the Flyers.
"We had 11 guys on Saturday and from one to 11 they gave it everything they had and did a fantastic job," the coach said.
The Lady Flyers also made a respectable showing finishing 11th out of 15 teams in the race also won by Wingate. Karen Munoz in 38th place and Sara Lindell in 64th were the first to cross the finish line for the Flyers.
"Who is going to win this battle here - your body or your mind," Moody called out as his team began another lap Tuesday afternoon on the course tucked in the woods behind the campus between a pond and Reservoir Park.
Having run an 8K race (4.97 miles) for the first time, the Flyer men now had a better idea about pacing themselves.
"We were all excited that we finished in the top five in our first meet," Taylor said. "I know my mindset and everybody else's today was to grind out the pace we need to run on race days."
Goodman also enjoyed the experience and the challenge.
"I was really nervous at first running my first 8K ever, "he said, "but we stuck together and did what we had to do to finish in the top five. The mindset going into it was we were the underdogs and wanted to show the other colleges who we are.
"Before the race they were looking at us kind of funny. After the race they knew who we were."
When the team boarded the bus that morning, Moody learned that one of the five Flyer ladies designated to run had been unable to make the trip. That posed a dilemma for the coach because five are needed in order to post a team score.
Aboard was team member Claudette Smith, who made the trip as a photographer because she had only begun training with the team a couple of weeks before. An all-around athlete at Grace Christian in Sanford, she had not done any distance running since she was a sophomore.
Smith finished the 3K race ahead of a dozen other runners.
"The entire thing was kind of stressful, but I'm happy I did it," she said. "I was really proud of what I accomplished. We were really proud to be competing with four year colleges."
In the language of sports, Smith took one for the team.
"By her running we got a team score," Moody said. "What she did was really special."
Next for the Flyers is the Monarch Cross Country Classic at Methodist University on September 23.
In a long career as a runner and coach, that includes a national team championship as a member of 1978 Pembroke State squad, Moody puts the fifth place finish by the Flyer men in their very first race on a pedestal.
"I've been involved in cross country for 48 years and the guy's race ranks in my top three all-time," he said. "I remember when they called out for fifth place and said, "Sandhills Community College". We let out a big cheer and everybody looked like, a community college?
"Hey, they haven't seen anything yet. We plan on competing every time we are out there. I hope we can make another memory to move up right beside it."
Men's 8K Team Results – 1.Wingate 30, 2. Louisburg 31, 3. Catawba 88, 4. Belmont Abbey 118, 5. Sandhills 148, 6. Truett-McConnell 190, 7. Pfeiffer 216, 8. Guilford 234, 9. Chowan 241, 10. Livingstone 251, 11. St. Augustine 301, 12. William Peace 364, 13. Winston-Salem State 371;
Individuals – 1. Nepolian Patel (Wingate) 25:27; Sandhills Results– 17. Daniel Taylor 28:21,23. Chance Goodman 29:16, 32. Daniel Hagan 29:55, 41.. Andrew Bowen 30:36, 42. Temaris Hailey 30:49, (44). Isiah McGilvary 30:56; (45). Jordan Anneheim 31:06, (52). John Grimm 31:37, (54). Jaime Torres 31:44, (91). Ivan Benjume 38:47, (102) Noah Brooks 44:26.
Women's 5K Team Results - 1. Wingate 29, 2. Catawba 64, 3. Truett-McConnell 100, 4. Belmont Abbey 131, 5. Louisburg 174, 6. Pfeiffer 191, 7. Barton 193, 8. Winston-Salem State 213, 9. Livingstone 254, 10. Salem 271, 11. Sandhills 305, 12. St. Augustine 309, 13. Chowan 330, 14. N.C. Wesleyan 359, 15. William Peace 423;
Individuals – 1. Hannah Mercer (Wingate) 19:23; Sandhills Results – 38. Karen Munoz, 64. Sara Lindell 26:28, 67. Izzy McNeil 26:55, 68. Anjel Rowe 27:12; 98. Claudette Smith 32:54.