By Jeremiah John
Lead by USCAA All-Americans and captains Kera Macfarlane-Nielson and Patrick Gonzalez, the Southern Virginia women's and men's cross country teams began their 2013 season at the Washington and Lee invitational Saturday morning. The men's team finished fourth of seven teams, with two runners in the top 15, while the women's team finished sixth of seven with one top-15 finisher.
The meet began with the women's 6K race, the Knights facing off against familiar opponents Ferrum, Mary Baldwin, and Randolph, as well as CAC conference opponent St. Mary's (Md.) and host Washington and Lee. Coming off a dominating 2012 season in which the Generals won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and placed fourth at the South-Southeast Regionals, the Generals women's team easily won the invitational with seven of the top 10 finishers. This was the second year in a row that the Generals have won their home invitational.
Southern Virginia was led by senior Kera Macfarlane-Nielson, who placed 11th on the hilly 5k course with a time of 22:27.8. Macfarlane-Nielson, the team's top finisher on last year's USCAA championship team, is one of only two returning runners for the Knights, along with junior Katelyn Tonini. First-year runner Becca Lords claimed a top-25 finish in her college debut, placing 22nd with a time of 23:22.9. Along with Lords, fellow first-year runners Sadie Taylor and Hayden Larman joined Macfarlane-Nielson and Tonini to round out the Knights' top five finishers.
The men's 8k race began at 11 am, on a sunnier day and a drier course than the Knights have seen in several years in Lexington. The race began well for the Knights, as junior captain and 2012 USCAA All-American Patrick Gonzalez joined freshman Michael Ward to lead all runners through the first mile. Both runners fell back a bit in the woods, but Gonzalez still managed a fourth-place finish and his personal best time on the course, with a time of 28:58.2. Ward finished his college debut in 11th place with a time of 29:53.9. Returner Kevin Prince joined Gonzalez and Ward in the top 16 with a time of 30:30.4.
The young Generals men's team, led by freshman Mac Strehler's 28:40.0 finish, edged St. Mary's (Md.) to win the meet with 42 points. Southern Virginia's men's team placed in the middle of the pack at fourth, beating familiar opponents Hampden-Sydney, Randolph, and Bluefield.
Before the meet, former Washington and Lee men's cross country coach John Tucker was honored for his 24 years of coaching the Generals, ending last year with his retirement. In his honor, the annual Washington and Lee Invitational was re-named the John Tucker Invitational.