The running teams were the class of the Elon University athletic department in 2014-15.
Sophomore distance runner Kimberly Johansen and the women’s track and field team captured the school’s first Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title, winning the outdoor championships in May. Johansen was voted The Most Outstanding Performer at the CAA meet, breaking the league record in the 1,500-meters.
And then there’s Luis Vargas ‘15. He won the first six races he ran last year en route to a 25th-place finish in the NCAA Championships, becoming Elon’s first cross country All-American.
Vargas and Johansen won Elon’s athlete of the year awards at the annual athletics banquet in May.
Vargas has graduated. But Johansen is back and once again running for the cross country team. While the Phoenix men’s and women’s teams won’t have the excitement of Vargas this season, there’s no reason to believe it shouldn’t be in the mix at the CAA Championships in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, on Halloween.
Last year, the men took second and the women took third at the event, which was held in Boston. Vargas won it.
The women have the better outlook, returning four runners who placed in the top 20 of last year’s CAA Championships, including redshirt sophomore distance runner Elyse Bierut, who came in 10th.
There’s a long way to go before that, though. The Phoenix hosts two home meets while traveling to North Carolina State University, University of Louisville and Wake Forest University to compete.
Since head coach Nick Polk was hired just before last season started, he’s won over the runners by preaching a team-based mindset. It’s not so much about the individual and his or her accolades, but rather about how they fit into the team’s position and place.
Inherently, cross country is an individual sport. Runners try to beat their own time each race and are usually more concerned about that than where they finish.
But thinking of the team doesn’t hurt. That can add a little more into the mix.
And without Vargas this year, Elon will need it. The Phoenix had high finishes in most meets last year by virtue of his wins. It falls on senior Ryan Gwaltney, sophomore Sam Geha, senior Reed Payne and more to fill the void. They don’t have to win, but they need to improve their times.
For the women’s team, the time is now. Junior distance runner Tereza Novotna and senior distance runner Jenny Gallagher are gone, but Johansen, Bierut and redshirt sophomore distance runner Kaitlin Snapp lead a good core of returners. Don’t be surprised to see one of them to make a good run in the NCAAs.
By the end of it all, the runners should still hold some bragging rights in the Elon athletics department.