Friday’s Nuttycombe Invitational hosted by the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin will be a huge test for the Syracuse Orange cross-country teams. Sixteen of the top 25 men’s teams and seventeen of the top 25 women’s teams will be in action tomorrow in a meet that will be crucial for NCAA at-large points. This is a meet that the Syracuse men have won twice (2014 and 2015) but it hasn’t been a place where the Orange women have found similar success.
Thanks to two transfers Syracuse is hoping to change that when they take to the course tomorrow afternoon. Coming into 2019 many expected the Orange to take a step back as they were replacing top runners Shannon and Mary Malone but after the team’s convincing win at the Coast-to-Coast Battle those expectations changed. Amanda Vestri and Jordan Jacob came to Syracuse with experience in bigger meets and immediately helped the Orange to a top-15 ranking.
I spoke with Amanda and Jordan last week about their decision to come to Syracuse and what they look for as the team enters this meet which will be the final test before ACC Championships. Both of them expressed that Head Coach Brien Bell was a main reason for choosing to come to Syracuse with Amanda nothing that she had trust in his training and she had seen how people like Paige Stoner had performed in the program when she decided to leave the Iowa St. Cyclones for Syracuse.
The graduate transfer Jacob had academic incentive for completing her eligibility with the Orange after spending four years with the Boise State Broncos, but it was the fit with the overall program that convinced her that Syracuse was the right place. When she arrived on campus she learned she didn’t need to be a vocal leader and that seems to fit well with her personality.
“I thought by being a 5th year I’d have to assume a leadership role because usually upperclassmen do that but honestly the girls who have been here for two or three years are very good leaders” Jacob said. “They just made our transition here real easy...and that’s going to make us more successful in championship season.”
One of the questions after last season dealt with the “low stick” at the top of line-up. Would Laura Dickinson or Rachel Bonner be ready to assume that role and help the Orange challenge ranked teams? The addition of Vestri who came from the Iowa State Cyclones with NCAA Championship experience and a comfort competing in big meets helps take the pressure off the entire Syracuse top seven.
“I have a bit more calmness around big championship meets where I know how to navigate through those and everyone can count on each other....when you make it a team effort it helps ease everyone’s anxiety.”
When asked about the early-season success Vestri was enthusiastic about the team’s reaction and how it can fuel them the rest of the way. “I feel like we’re super hungry for it and we all want it very badly and we kind of have our eyes on the prize and it’s out there and attainable”. Jordan added that the team gained confidence from the meet and that helps with the focus needed to prepare every day for the steps ahead of them starting with Wisconsin.
Both runners felt the Boston race helped the motivation and focus but Vestri was quick to caution that in the end it didn’t mean much. “One good race in September isn’t going to have an impact on what you’re going to do the rest of the season.” What it did do was open the eyes of the coaches who put the Syracuse women at the top of the Northeast region and pegged them as a likely NCAA team.
The duo both said they were looking forward to tomorrow’s meet and the challenge it brings. “We’re just excited to face some bigger competition and get in a meet surrounded by more people.” said Jacob. Vestri added this, ‘We know what this meet is like. It’s intense and it’s pretty much the prelude to the NCAAs”.
Syracuse hopes the leadership Amanda and Jordan bring guides them tomorrow and over the next two meets as they push to get the team to Terre Haute and the NCAA Championships. Bringing in two athletes who have been part of conference championship teams helps the rest of the team remain focused on the work needed to accomplish the team’s goals.
The women’s 6k race will start tomorrow at 1:20 pm Eastern with the men’s 8k set to go off at 2:00. Top ten finishes for the men and women would help both teams with positive momentum heading into the ACC Championships at the end of the month. While neither squad is being considered favorites for that meet they are both talented enough to be in contention. We’ll learn a lot from Friday’s results when the Orange square off with ACC foes the NC State Wolfpack, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Virginia Cavaliers.
Come back next week for a full meet recap.