By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
Dayton’s men’s and women’s cross country teams kicked off their seasons at the Rich Davis Flyer 5K Saturday at Indian Riffle Park in nearby Kettering. The men’s team finished in a tie for second, while the women’s team took third.
Sophomore Flyer Emily Leonard highlighted the day by winning the women’s competition overall in 18:01—11 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher and 36 seconds faster than her previous personal record.
She was later named the Atlantic 10 women’s cross country co-performer of the week along with La Salle’s Morgan Szekely.
Ohio State and Ohio University were the top two finishers in the women’s portion of the 5K, while Ohio University won the men’s race.
Leonard, though, dominated the race from the onset.
“Ohio State was there, so honestly I had no idea how I was going to place compared to them,” Leonard said in a recent interview. “My strategy going in was just to stay with the lead pack.”
“I definitely wanted to go out with them and see how long I could hold onto their pace,” she continued, thinking that she would have to keep up with the lead runners from OSU and OU.
Instead, Leonard began separating herself from the other top competitors.
“I broke away at the first hill, a little less than a mile in,” she said. “I was in the lead there, and didn’t even realize that I [broke away]. As I was going up the hill, I just thought, ‘Okay, I guess they’re not coming.’”
From that point forward, she led all runners in her best run to date. Her finish at 18:01 shattered her previous-best of 18:37, set at last year’s Queen City Invitational. It was also the Flyers’ fastest mark last season.
“This summer, I trained a lot harder than I did last summer because I was injured last summer,” Leonard said. “Knowing what to expect in my sophomore year now, and everything that comes along with college racing, I definitely feel more fit and ready to race.”
As for the team, they feel Saturday’s race was a strong start to the season.
“We were really happy with everyone and how they ran,” Leonard said. “Our coach uses the word ‘accountability’ a lot, and everyone fulfilled their accountability [Saturday]. We’re just going to keep trying to fulfill our race strategies and everything our coach tells us individually.”
The women’s cross country team is next in action Sept. 19 at Cedarville University’s Friendship Invitational 8K, while the men will split their squad that weekend, sending half to the National Catholic Invitational 8K hosted by Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, Sept. 18, and the other half to the Friendship Invitational.