KERNERSVILLE, N.C. – Matthew Jelley is hoping his lesson plans have paid off.
As the assistant coach who handles the distance runners at the University of Maryland, Jelley designs workouts and teaches certain skills throughout the season, all pointing toward championship races at the end of the year.
One such big test for his Terrapins comes Friday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Cross Country Championships, to be held at the Beeson Park Course. The 6-kilometer women’s race begins at 11 a.m.
Unlike many sports where early wins and losses count equally on a team’s record, cross country’s events are opportunities to concentrate on certain aspects of training.
“The first couple meets are there to shake the rust off,” said Jelley. “Each week is kind of a teachable moment. We learn how we need to react in certain situations. We try to make sure each meet that we practice certain areas.”
This year, Jelley said a focus has been on packing runners closely together. Teams score fewer points when the fifth runner on a team can finish relatively close to its top runner.
This season, Maryland’s first to fifth runners have finished within a minute in three of four races.
“I think we’re much better than we’ve been in the past in that measure,” he said.
“Each of those early meets are kind of a dress rehearsal and we talk about the lessons we’ve learned. I feel like we’re ready to put it all together now.”
Maryland will have three seniors and a junior at the top of its lineup for the ACC meet. Becky Yep has again taken over the No. 1 position she had last season at the conference and regional meets.
“We’ve worked with Becky on staying healthy this season,” said Jelley. “When you get her on a cross country course, she’s as tough a competitor as you can have out there.”
Bridget Nolan is in her fourth cross country season for the Terps and will compete in her third ACC meet. Senior Julie Sinkovitz and junior Myah Hicks are in the Terrapins’ cross country lineup but have had most of their success at middle distances on the track.
Maryland will be competing without freshman standout Hannah Mansbach, who was injured in early October and will miss the rest of the cross country season. Mansbach opened her college career with a pair of top-10 individual finishes in her first two races.
The women’s field includes five teams ranked in the top 30 by the U.S. Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association.
Florida State enters the championship as the nation’s fifth-ranked team, followed by Virginia (10th), Syracuse (19th), Notre Dame (22nd) and Boston College (27th). The Seminoles won the team title a year ago by placing five runners in the top 14.