By: James Dronzek – Staff Writer
Practice and preparation are key components to success, and that holds true for the Dayton Flyers’ cross country program.
“It’s probably one of the biggest ‘team summers’ that we’ve ever had,” said Coach Jason Ordway, who coaches both the men’s and women’s cross country teams. “Some of our runners who had apartments here at UD [over the summer] had a live-together train-together mentality, which has set them ahead of where they were one year ago.”
Dayton’s program has found much success in the early stages of the season, which has led to record-breaking achievements for both teams. In the Sept. 18 Great Lakes Regional rankings, both squads were ranked in the No. 9 spot, the highest ever ranking in school history for the men and ties the highest ranking ever achieved by the women.
Getting to this spot was no small feat, however. The Flyers have impressed by keeping up with highly-ranked, big name competition in their most recent events, along with fierce Atlantic 10 competitors.
Notre Dame’s National Catholic Invitational on Sept. 15 was the grandest and most recent stage in which the Flyers shined, as the men placed first in the 8K and the women placed second in the 5K – just behind the Fighting Irish – among universities such as Marquette, Duquesne, and Saint Louis. Prior to the event, Notre Dame and Marquette were both ranked ahead of the Flyers in the Great Lakes Region on both sides.
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It was the first time the men had ever won the National Catholic Invitational.
Despite out-performing these impressive cross country programs, Ordway is not one to dwell on the success of other teams.
“It just shows how far we’ve come in a short period of time,” said Ordway. “We are Division I, we are training just as hard as everyone else, we have a lot of talent around here; we just have to realize that talent in order to have success and close the gap on other programs.”
First place performances have highlighted the beginning of the season for the Flyers.
For the men, junior Chris Negri has taken home A-10 Conference Performer of the Week honors two weeks in a row. His 5K time of 15:01 earned him 2nd place at the Queen City Invitational on Sept. 2 to pair with the honor. While his 8K time of 24:58 at the National Catholic Invitational was good enough to make him the overall winner of the event and be named to the conference’s top performer again.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect to get such a high honor,” said Negri. “But I’ve been performing well for the past couple of weeks…It’s an astounding honor.”
On the women’s side, senior Emily Leonard has paved the way for Dayton’s winning ways, as she ran a first-place time of 17:19 at the Queen City Invitational and a fourth-place time of 17:40 at the National Catholic Invitational.
She also received the A-10 Conference Performer of the Week title following her first-place performance. After dealing with injuries throughout her career at UD, Leonard was humbled by the honor and personally satisfied with her personal record time at the first meet.
“Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to expect after battling all of the injuries,” said Leonard. “Running a PR in my first race as a senior was a great way to start the season, so getting the A-10 honor just adds to it.”
Aside from the top individual performances, a focus on securing the best possible scores as a team has aided in trying to reach the program’s max potential. Junior Spencer Danielson, sophomore J.P. Flavin, and junior Luke Hoover have posted multiple top-10 times in the first two events for the men, while the women have had the same type of help from sophomore Chloe Flora, junior Taylor Vernot, and junior Emily Borchers.
Dayton has maintained the hunger and drive that was emulated through the practice of summer training, and they look to prove that theses teams can be the best in the A-10, and maybe even more.
“Everyone has finally bought in and wants to see the whole team succeed,” said Leonard. “It will be key for us to never lose the mentality that we have so far this season.”
Photo courtesy of Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics