NEWS, NOTES & COMMENTARY
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
By Bethany Bradsher
Cross country's gauge: The
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Running is a solitary pursuit,
and Pirate cross country coach Dan Lee sets individualized goals for his
runners. He insists that they push themselves and chase their own personal
bests, but he would never insist that a barrier broken by one runner is the
appropriate goal for another.
Still, in the early part of
this season, Lee has seen a common achievement among a number of his ECU
athletes — bettering their top cross country time by more than a minute in
less than a year. Many of those fast times came last weekend at Lake Kristi
as they hosted the Pirate Invitational, an event that both teams won for the
fourth consecutive year.
In 5K races where top times
are 17 or 18 minutes, shaving off that many seconds is a significant feat.
Yet on the women’s team, Bjork Olsen improved by exactly a minute, Stacy
Gonzalez saw a jump of 1:07, and Brooke Kott ran 54 seconds faster from one
season to the next.
On the men’s side, senior
Antonio Palmer dropped 44 seconds off his 5K at this time last year with a
15:40.49 and became the 12th fastest ECU man in history at that distance.
Close behind him, also breaking 16 seconds, were young runners like
sophomore Chase Miller and redshirt junior Cory Hampshire.
“When it comes to these
beginning meets, I’m concerned more with how they compare to themselves than
how they compare to other teams,” Lee said. “They have worked really hard
over past two weeks. Lately I’ve been telling them, ‘Here is the time when I
want you to test yourself, extend your boundaries.”
Gonzalez, a Raleigh native who
has battled injuries throughout her career and finished second to Olsen at
the Pirate Invitational, is enjoying an outstanding fall after making
holistic changes in everything from her diet to her sleep schedule and her
daily exercise regimen at home. She is healthier and stronger across the
board, she said, and she is highly motivated by teammates who are determined
to work hard and set the bar high.
“I think this team as a whole
is better than it’s ever been,” said Gonzalez, who is classified as a
redshirt junior. “We have so many great runners, and we have the potential
to be better. The competition really motivates us all to keep working.”
Gonzalez also attributes the
dramatic improvements to Lee, who pushes his runners hard but in a way that
underscores how much he cares about them as people and athletes.
Lee emphasizes the mind-body
connection in running and encourages his team to be lifelong learners who
can always find the key to faster times if they search diligently enough.
“He’s like a dad to me,”
Gonzalez said. “I find myself trying to impress him, trying to get better
for the team and to make him proud.”
As for Lee, as he looks ahead
to the Charlotte Cross Country Invitational this weekend and the Conference
USA Championships in late October, he feels sure that the upward progress
can continue. He is thrilled when he sees athletes like Palmer, who has
never really hit his stride in cross country before, finally perform
according to his potential as a senior.
“The sky’s the limit with this
guy,” he said of Palmer, who finished sixth in the 800 meters at the C-USA
Indoor Championships last year. “Now he’s starting to become the runner he
Lee is also confident that
every time a runner drops a minute off of his or her PR, all of the other
purple-clad runners on the course are acutely aware that the same is
possible for them.
“It’s high tide,” Lee said,
“and all the ships are rising.”
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09/26/2012 01:28 AM