West Virginia cross country Head Coach Sean Cleary believes his team is starting to hit its stride just 25 days ahead of the Big 12 Championship.
The Mountaineers are coming off an eighth-place finish at the Greater Louisville Classic and have just one regular season meet left before the postseason begins.
"I think we ran a good race over the weekend at Louisville, and we’re just looking to keep that momentum going," Cleary said.
Cleary gives a lot of credit to his senior captains, Amy Cashin and Maggie Drazba, for the leadership roles they’ve played this season, especially with a youthful roster.
"I think the attitude of the program, the leadership of the program, within our team captains, has been exceptional this fall," Cleary said.
Drazba has one individual victory this season and Cashin owns two top-15 finishes, but Cleary is confident the duo can still improve.
"They (Drazba and Cashin) are running well, but I think their best races are in front of them," Cleary said.
The final regular season meet WVU will compete in is the Penn State National Open in State College, Pennsylvania, where the Mountaineers took fourth place as a team in 2016.
Drazba and fellow senior Jill Forsey finished 10th and 11th overall, respectively, at the National Open a season ago.
Forsey, who was set to be one of WVU’s best — if not the No. 1 runner — this season, unfortunately has been battling injuries all year and has yet to make her 2017 debut.
Cleary says that Forsey is fighting every day to get back and could be ready to go for the National Open.
"The big thing for us is we are hoping to get Jill back into action over the next month," Cleary said. "Jill is our All-American, and we’re hoping to get her involved here soon."
Even if Forsey is unable to compete at Penn State, Cleary said she will be ready for the Big 12 Championships.
WVU as a team has finished in the top three at each of the last four Big 12 Championships, and Cleary says to continue that success — or maybe win the title — the team will need improve their average times.
"We’re going to need Jill in there, and we’re going to need (our runners) to improve about 15 seconds; and then we’ll put ourselves to where we can have a shot at it," Cleary said.
The Mountaineers are also relying on youth coming down the stretch. At least two of the young runners will be counted on to round out the top-5 of the postseason squad.
Cleary hopes that sophomores Olivia Hill and Candace Jones, along with freshmen Hayley Jackson and Sarah Wills, can continue their early-season success into the final months of the season.
"We’re looking at four of our top six or seven that are just young kids and quite honestly are exceeding many people’s expectations in college," Cleary said.
The NCAA regionals, which takes place on Nov. 10 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a course where WVU finished first as a team in a meet earlier this season, will be the Mountaineers’ stiffest competition.
Cleary said that WVU will need to knock off at least one, but most likely two, of the top programs in the Mid-Atlantic Region to earn a team bid to the NCAA Championships.
"The pecking order looks like Villanova, Georgetown and Penn State," Cleary said.
Cleary seems very optimistic about his program right now, and he hopes that optimism will eventually turn into results and make it back to the NCAA Championships as a team for the first time since 2014.