Men’s cross country wins first ACC title since 1994

The Demon Deacons won by a landslide margin


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

The Wake Forest men’s cross country team poses with the ACC Championship trophy.

Cooper Sullivan, Multimedia Managing Editor

For the second time in two weeks, men’s cross country was making the four-hour bus ride back from a meet in Charlottesville, VA. For the first time in 28 years, an ACC Championship trophy would be making the trip down to Winston-Salem, too. 

The Demon Deacons were narrowly favored to win the conference title back in September but won the Oct. 27 meet in convincing fashion, nearly halving the team score of runner-up Syracuse (in cross-country meets, the lowest score wins). 

In the 8K, Aaron Las Heras (23:09.2) was the first Racin’ Deac to cross the finish line in third place, with Luke Tewalt (23:09.4) only a step behind in fourth. The senior and junior both notched personal bests. Graduate runners Thomas Vanoppen (23:12.4) and Zach Facioni (23:15.4) claimed the fifth and eighth-placed spots. All four were given All-ACC recognitions after finishing within the top-21. 

Facioni credited the Deacs’ race at Panorama Farms two weeks earlier for helping the team finish at the top of the podium.

“Mentally it’s a lot easier to know how it runs, where you can make moves and where you can’t,” Facioni said. “One of the key things we learned from last time is that after 5k, it doesn’t really change that much. Going into this we kind of tried to use that as much as we could, making sure that we were where we needed to be at around that spot.”

Joaquin Martinez de Pinillos (23:27.7) rounded out the scoring five in 24th, but after leading the race at the halfway point, the graduate runner was worried he hadn’t given enough.

“At 6km, I started falling off a little bit so I wasn’t sure [if we would win],” Martinez de Pinillos said. “I was trying to salvage every place I could while I felt absolutely spent. I crossed the line thinking ‘oh my god, I just screwed this up for my team.’”

This would not be the case as Wake Forest ended the meet with 44 points compared to Syracuse’s 86, UNC’s 87, and two-time defending champion Notre Dame’s 92.

Head coach John Hayes was shocked by the margin of victory, especially after the team’s poor start. Wake Forest was anticipating a slower pace at the beginning which allowed for runners from Notre Dame, UNC and Virginia to get to a quick lead. Led by Vanoppen, Martinez de Pinillos and Tewalt, the Deacs started to make their attack around the 3km mark.

“When our guys moved to the front, it looked like other people just mentally collapsed,” Hayes said. “That’s a testament to how the guys prepared and what the guys did at that pace at that point in time. They raised it a level and hurt people.”

Although the conference title is secured, the season is far from over. Focus has now shifted to regionals, which will be in Louisville, KY on Nov. 11.

“They know we’ve got a task ahead of us, so they can only be on cloud nine for a moment,” Hayes said. “[On Sunday], we were running 16 miles about an hour south of here on some rolling dirt roads so there’s not a lot of time to celebrate.”