The Elon University cross country teams officially kicked off their seasons Thursday night by hosting the Elon Opener.

In the men’s 6-kilometer race, sophomore Nick Ciolkowski burst ahead of the pack around with 2,000 meters to take the lead for good, winning the race by 24 seconds with a time of 18 minutes and 32 seconds. 

“He’s on another level,” said head coach Nick Polk. “His training was a lot better than last summer. His fall, so far, has been better.”

Ciolkowski’s pace finished at less than five minutes per mile, which he said came more off of his body and how the other runners in the race were doing.

“I always go mostly by feel. I just listen to my body,” Ciolkowski said. “In cross country, a 5:05 pace can feel much faster. I was watching the other guys, seeing how they were feeling and I was feeling. When I felt comfortable, I dropped the pace a little bit.”

Ciolkowski was the lone bright spot for the Phoenix, as the next Elon finisher — sophomore Greg Paugh — finished 19th. As a team, Elon finished fifth with 100 points.

On the women’s side, the Phoenix finished second as a team in a 4-kilometer race thanks to strong runs from senior Kimberly Johansen and freshman Sophia Tasselmyer. Johansen finished third with a time of 14:16, and Tasselmyer finished five seconds behind her at 14:21 for fourth place.

“I thought they ran great,” Polk said. “We haven’t done anything in practice that was fast or anywhere near that pace — we haven’t been anywhere near that. For us, it was just a rust-buster — just get out and get a race in. We only ran about half of our top seven today, and it’ll be interesting when we plug those girls in to see how they interact with the group.”

The women’s race got out to a lightning-fast start, with the leader running the first mile in 5:13. Johansen was excited to see how the young runners like Tasselmyer were able to handle the quick start.

“To hear how fast we did go out, and then see how well everybody handled that, is a big confidence-booster,” Johansen said. “For the girl who won to drag us all with her is a shock to the system, but everyone did an awesome job today dealing with that.”

Elon finished the race with 41 points as a team. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill won both races. Polk was happy with how the course held up after it rained sporadically throughout the day.

“I feel like we have a really good facility, and this kept us from traveling far,” Polk said. “If the weather was bad, we were home and saving budget money. But I also like to bring other teams in from the area and showcase our course. A lot of teams were here for the first time, and I hope they come back.”