The Washington and Lee men’s cross country team enters this year with one simple goal: qualify for the NCAA championship meet in Wisconsin- Oshkosh.
Building off of last season, that goal does not seem far-fetched. Although the team stumbled toward the end of the year with injuries to several key runners, it was ranked as high as fourth at one point.
“We fell short of our original goal of finishing top four at regionals and instead placed seventh,” said Captain Levi Warring, ’16. “But we were still very close to fourth, we were only 12 points out, which was kind of a let down.”
With seven first year-runners this year, the team has vastly increased its depth and is ready to have another run at both the ODAC championship and a bid at Wisconsin.
“Last year we did not have that many guys, but we have 16 guys now so our depth is a big improvement,” said captain Jacob Strauss, ’16.
The team’s bigger goal is to earn a bid to its first NCAA championship meet in 20 years.
There are only two ways to qualify for the NCAA championship meet: place top two in the regional meet or earn an at-large bid. The Generals firmly believe that both of those goals are within striking distance this season.
“I believe that in one to three years we have a chance to be one of the best [cross country] teams in W&L history,” said Coach Brandon Spalding. “If we compete at our potential, we will make noise at a national level.”
The men will have plenty of chances to showcase that potential this season: they are scheduled to race against 10 of the top 35 teams in the country.
“It will either be a wake-up call or a good chance to see how we match up against the best,” Spalding said.
If the Generals qualify for nationals, they will be among one of three teams in the program’s history to clinch a bid to the event, with the other two bids coming in 1975 and 1995.
“We have the make up to be one the most successful programs in W&L history,” Spalding said. “We are trying to build a firm foundation for the future.”
Before the Generals start worrying about the future, however, they need to accomplish their goals this season.
“Making NCAAs would be huge,” Warring said. “It’s only happened twice, each 20 years apart, so we feel like it’s our time.”