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'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Men’s cross country finishes Nationals in 24th

The fastest Deac was over 100 seconds off the lead
Rynard Swanepoel (left) and Hunter Jones (right) run the Panorama Farms course in Earlysville, Va. (Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics)

A year after the best season finale finish in program history, the Demon Deacons could not replicate success at the 2023 NCAA National Championship meet.

Wake Forest men’s cross country finished the 10 km Panorama Farms course in Earlysville, Va., with 536 points (in cross country, the lowest team score wins), placing 24th out of 31 teams. Sophomore Joe O’Brien, the fastest Demon Deacon runner on the day, finished in 81st place with a time of 30:23.5. 

O’Brien was followed by freshman Charlie Sprott in 125th place (30:47.2), redshirt junior Luke Tewalt in 137th (30:53.7), sophomore Gavin Ehlers in 143rd (30:57.9) and freshman Hunter Jones in 171st (31:17.0). Freshman Aidan Ross (184th, 31:30.0) and junior Rynard Swanepoel (200th, 31:43.4) also raced for Wake Forest but did not score any team points. 

“Today was a little like an early season race — some good and some not so good,” Head Coach John Hayes said. “That’s a bit how our season has gone. We definitely need to start racing more consistently. With that being said, we have an incredibly young group that was missing one of our stars.”

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For the third-straight championship meet, Wake Forest was without two-time ACC freshman of the week Rocky Hansen. In the two meets Hansen participated in this season, he placed in fifth at the Virginia Invitational at Panorama Farms and sixth at the Nuttycombe Invitational— both of which were considered previews of the national championship meet. 

As a team, Wake Forest earned 11th at the Sept. 23 Virginia Invitational and 16th at the Oct. 13 Nuttycombe Invitational. Coming into Saturday’s NCAA Nationals, Wake Forest was ranked No. 30 in the nation, but was able to beat out four top-25 ranked teams during the race.

“I thought we could be in the top 20, but we fell short,” Hayes said. “The great thing is that we bring everyone back next year, as well as adding several very good athletes to the mix. The future is bright for Wake Forest cross country.”

Graham Blanks of Harvard (28:37.7) captured the individual title after a breakaway kick from New Mexico’s Habtom Samuel (28:40.7) in the final 800 meters. Blanks, 21, is the first male runner under the age of 22 to win the national championship since 2003 and the first Ivy League runner ever to do so. 

Oklahoma State decisively won the team championship with a score of 49 points, as all five scorers finished within the top 15. Reigning national champions Northern Arizona were the only other team to have a final score with double digits, coming in second place at 71 points.

When asked on Friday how many points would be needed to win the team title, Oklahoma State Head Coach Dave Smith joked that it only takes “one less than NAU.” In the 2022 championship meet in Stillwater, Okla., the two schools tied for first with 83 points, but the championship was awarded to NAU due to tiebreaker rules. 

Former Demon Deacon and NAU graduate transfer Aaron Las Heras earned his second-straight All-American honors (awarded to the top 40 finishers) by placing in 18th with a time of 29:29.1.

Now that cross-country season is over, attention turns to the indoor track and field season, which begins shortly after Thanksgiving break. Wake Forest will participate in two one-day meets on Dec. 2 at Boston University and the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem. 

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About the Contributor
Cooper Sullivan
Cooper Sullivan, Sports Editor
Cooper Sullivan is a senior from Winston-Salem majoring in Communication with double minors in Journalism and Art History. He enjoys long walks on the beach, dancing like no one is watching and "committing to the bit".

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