There is a sense of excitement surrounding this year’s Wake Forest cross country team as the squad seeks to make big strides and assert themselves as a competitive force in the ACC.
This is all part of a complete program overhaul under second-year coaches John Hayes and Michelle Chewens, who have hopes of establishing a winning pedigree after some disappointing seasons in recent years.
“One of the things I set out to do when I got here was to entirely change the culture and expectations of the team,” Hayes said. “We have made some big improvements and I believe we have great potential this year.”
On the women’s side, this culture change is already in full effect under coach Michelle Chewens. After a 12th place finish at the ACC Championships in 2015, the team made the jump to 8th in 2016.
This year, the women’s team returns three of their top five runners from last year’s squad, including junior Mimi Smith, sophomore Sam Halvorson, and senior Cate Allen — all of whom posted top 40 finishes at this past year’s ACC Championships.
The women were also busy over the offseason, adding two important pieces in Hannah Brookover, a transfer sophomore from the University of Florida, and Eliza Lukens-Day, a graduate transfer from Brown University.
Together with the returning core, Chewens hopes that both Brookover and Lukens-Day can help the team build on last year’s strong performance.
“Going forward the expectation is that we’re consistently improving every year and in the next few years we’re competing at the top of the ACC,” Chewens said. “This year I’d say placing in the top-half of the conference is definitely feasible.”
On the men’s side, the bar is also set high despite a disappointing 13th place conference finish last year — a result Hayes deemed as “unacceptable.”
“There’s no way to hide that 13th is not good,” Hayes said. “Expectations are much higher this year.”
For the team to make a jump up the ACC standings it will rely on its depth, as the group sports eight to 10 runners capable of stepping up and leading the team.
This includes junior Craig Corti, who led the Deacs with a 30th place finish at last year’s ACC Championships, and senior Sebastian Fischbach, the team’s top runner in 2015, who will return after missing the 2016 season with injury.
The team also welcomes standout freshmen Daniel Viegra from Texas and Mitchell Day from Michigan, who will both have opportunities to contribute early on.
The season kicks off for the Deacons this Friday, September 1, at the Bull City Classic in Durham, N.C. The team will compete in seven meets throughout the season including the ACC Championships on Oct. 27 in Louisville, KY.
By the end of the season, Hayes makes it no secret that he hopes the reputation of the team will be a little different.
“We want to be known on campus,” Hayes said. “And not just as the team that sucks.”