Is UNC Cross Country About to Get Big?

Cross country is not a sport I followed at UNC. For one thing, there's a lot of other fall sports to grab your attention, between the championship soccer and field hockey teams, as well as that strange little sport they play in Kenan. Also, its rather hard to be a spectator at a cross country match; you're mostly just watching a people run by for a brief instance. It doesn't help that the cross country teams aren't bringing home the hardware a lot of other fall sports have. The men's team last made the NCAA's in 1991, and although the women's team had a ten year streak of qualifying for the championship meet from 1998 until 2007, their best finish was 6th in 1999. Even having Shalane Flanagan on the squad for four years, a woman who was the NCAA champion in 2002 and 2003 and has since graduating won four cross country national championships and the 10,000-meter bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics wasn't enough to bring the Tar heels home a title.

However, things have happened that may start to change that. First of all, a new coach in Peter Watson was brought on in 2009 to lead the cross country effort after having coached at Auburn for five seasons. Flanagan also started volunteering as an assistant last season. And while neither the men's or women's team made the championships last season, both were close to at-large bids and things were looking up.

Here's what's happened since then. First, last year's runner-up for the women, Kendra Schaaf, transferred from Washington to UNC. In her two seasons at UDub, her team finished first and third at nationals, and although she won't be eligible to compete this season, she'll definitely up the Heels' game. Then, the men's recruiting class for this season was named number one overall by Flotrack.com. Both teams return most of their big runners from last year; of the five named All-Region (three women, two men) only one was an upperclassman. The teams are young and have the room and motivation to excel, and while this season may not be the breakthrough one, the next couple of years show a lot of promise.

In case you're curious, here's a good profile of Schaaf from when she started with the Huskies.

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