It's hard to believe, but the first Colonial Athletic Association championship of the 2010-11 athletic calendar will be handed out this weekend as the league's men's and cross country squads invade the campus of UNC Wilmington.
Part of that invasion will be both the men's and women's teams from VCU and under the direction of Nicole Cook, the Rams have continually made progress with each meet this fall and are looking to surprise some people this weekend. Cook, who was an All-American at Tennessee, is in her first year as the Director of Cross Country and has brought a new level of enthusiasm and excitement to both programs.
Before the Rams headed south for the weekend, VCU Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant Mollie Wallace sat down with Cook to discuss this weekend, her first season at the helm and much, much more.
MW: How would you rate the progress of both your teams this season?
NC: Progress is exactly what we've been focusing on this fall and I feel like we've been very successful in several areas. We've gotten stronger not only physically, but mentally, which has helped us race smarter every week. Our teams have had to face new challenges throughout this season and every time they've stepped up and were ready to take on those obstacles.
MW: Going into the season what were some of the goals you set for your team and do you feel like you accomplished them?
NC: My goals for them were to learn how to run a smart race and to run tough even when they don't feel their best. They have accomplished this because we have trained hard this season and really challenged them. They've done a great job of battling through the training and races on the way to gaining knowledge and obtaining personal bests. Nearly every runner has recorded a personal best.
MW: Since this is your first year coaching, what were some of things that may have surprised you?
NC: Being a new coach, you never know how the team will interact with you, but it's been so easy to bond and have fun with these teams. I've also been very pleasantly surprised how many PR's that we have had in all the races this fall.
MW: Junior Hayley Sullivan (pictured, above) has been the leader in almost every race on the women's side. She came in as a top Division III runner from Mary Washington and has a lot of experience. What has her leadership and experience brought to a very young women's squad?
NC: Hayley is just a tough kid. She's a runner who will lead by example and she's done a great job of that this fall by giving 110% in both the races and in practice.
MW: Likewise for the men's team, they are led by the seniors like Piotr Dybas (pictured, right). How have that group of seniors stepped up to lead this year?
NC: The veteran group of runners on the men's side is a tremendous mix of great personalities and it's been a lot of fun to work with the team and those guys. They come ready to work every day and lead by example no matter what the circumstances are surrounding them.
MW: Who are some of the athletes to watch, maybe someone that is a surprise, during the upcoming CAA Championships?
NC: It's funny because I really think that nobody is really expecting any of our runners this weekend, and I truly believe that every one of the runners wearing the VCU uniform this weekend will be ready to step up to the plate and challenge the rest of the CAA.