As the Sandhills Community College men's and women's cross country teams prepared this week for the upcoming regional and national meets, Coach Jef Moody reflected on an unusual regular season.
"It seemed like every time we got ready to race, we had a storm," he said as the team worked out on Wednesday at Pinecrest High School.
Both Flyers squads made a good showing at the season-opening Chick-Fil-A Invitational at Catawba on September 1. Daniel Taylor was the runner-up individually and the Flyer men finished third in a field of 10 NCAA Division II and II teams. Enya Dewars led the Lady Flyers who came in ninth out of 12 teams.
Hurricanes Florence and Michael forced postponement of the second and fourth meets. In between the men finished 20th, and the ladies 27th, at the Queen City Invitational in Charlotte on September 28. The field of 30 teams included six from Division I and over 500 runners.
"I told them before we went there that I'm throwing you to the wolves," Moody recalled. "That meet was probably as good as any meet in the country. Everybody ran a personal best and I thought we did really well.
"That shot us up to second in the national rankings (men's) and they were all excited. I told them that doesn't mean a thing. What matters is what we do on November 3."
The Flyer men are currently ranked third, and the Lady Flyers eighth, going into this Saturday's Region X Championships at Milliken Park in Spartanburg, SC. The NJCAA Division III National Championship in Westfield, Mass. follows a week later, bringing the second season of the sport at Sandhills to a close.
The way that Moody looks at it, the missed meets might be a blessing in disguise.
"When we get to nationals I don't want to have left the race in North Carolina," he says. "I've seen it before."
Assisting Moody about three days a week is Scott Matti, a member of the military. Including members of the track team doing some pre-season work, about 35 athletes went through their paces on this afternoon.
Leading the men's squad is Daniel Taylor who earned All-American honors after finishing second by 1.1 ticks of the clock behind the winner at last year's national meet. The Union Pines High School grad also earned All-American recognition in May by winning the 10,000 and 5,000 meter runs at the NJCAA Track and Field Championships.
During Monday's trips around the oval, Moody was a little frustrated by his inability to get Taylor to pace himself.
"Daniel does not like to be behind," the coach said.
Said Taylor, "They are trying to slow me down today by putting me on a 10 second delay. It's not intentional, but that's just making me go faster.
"There is one guy at nationals that's going to be about a minute faster than the guy who beat me last year. I'm definitely going to have some competition, but I think I'm ready."
Nine Flyers are vying to be among the seven runners that will be able to race at the national meet. In addition to Taylor, Andrew Bowen, Daniel Hagan and Jordan Anneheim all competed in Massachusetts last year. Sophomores John Grimm and Ivan Benjume, and freshmen Trace Fraley, Luke Owen, Dalton Tomeski, Caelan Burton and Donovan Pearson, are the other members of the team.
Moody thinks the Lady Flyers can improve on last year's eighth place finish at the national meet.
"The girls are really, really better this year," he says. "I like this group. I think they might surprise some people. The eyes are the window to the soul and you can see it in their eyes."
Dewars, Sara Lindell, Izzabella McNeil and Yesica Valdez-Upson all ran at last year's national meet. Sophomores Claudette Smith and Keisha Schmitt, and freshmen Floribel Aguirre-Villaverde and Meagan Ua participated in one or both of the meets this fall.
"I feel that running track definitely helped us out and we're a lot stronger," says Lindell, who placed fifth in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the national championship in May. "We know what we're going up against this year. I think we definitely have a chance to move up there. We're excited to see what happens."
McNeil, who was also teammate of Lindell's at Union Pines, echoes that sentiment.
"We've got a different mindset," she says. "We're putting in a lot more work this year. It's crazy because Sara and I started in cross country to stay in shape for soccer. I ended up liking it more than soccer."
Moody has not had time to recruit for next year, but says that he is getting phone inquiries from all over the state. He feels that between cross country and track there will be 50 athletes in those programs before the year is over.
The Flyers will want to do well at the regional meet, but a berth at nationals is already assured. They will leave for Massachusetts the following Thursday.
"With all the storms we've had, when we get up there we want to take it out on all the races we couldn't run," the coach said. "I don't want to put a lot of pressure on them, but I'll tell them we've trained too hard not to do our best. When we get up there, it will be the 88th day we practiced. It will be the fourth race in 88 days and we'll be ready."
The Harper College (IL) men's and women's teams are the defending champions.
"It's helped me reinforce to the guys that the team that's ranked No. 1 deserves it because they've won the championship seven years in a row," Moody said. "So if we want it , we're going to have to take it away from them. It's as simple as that and they all seem to have bought in to that.
"We have to go up there like we are on a business trip. Mentally we're ahead of where we were last year. We're going in with three races under our belt so we won't be over-raced. We should be ready to rock and roll."