Note: The following appears in the August 2019 issue of Orange: The Experience.
The more you talk with track-and-field Head Coach Mark Elliott about the upcoming cross-country season, the easier it becomes to discern the excitement and potential for success he feels his team has. Elliott acknowledges that while his team is still young, the experience and toughness acquired by his crew from last year’s development and accomplishments will pay dividends when it comes to this season.
The women’s team looks poised to build off the momentum which they finished last season with. Logan Morris, a junior from Inman, S.C., was the lone Tiger to represent Clemson at the NCAA Women’s Division I Cross Country Championship race held in Madison, Wis., last season. Elliott will call upon the leadership of Morris, as well as her accomplished teammates, Riley Coggin and Morgan Wittrock, to ensure the women’s team adheres to the process laid out for their development and trusts the training prescribed.
Elliott reflected on his expectations for this year by saying, “Another year in the program will benefit our women’s team as a whole. We should expect one of our better yearsthis season.”
The expectations will continue to be high as the group looks to build off their ninth-place regional finish from last season, its best since 2012.
The men’s team is full of potential and opportunities for growth, as young talent and newly acquired experience looks to improve the results of past seasons.
“We had a bunch of young guys last year, and the distance which they compete in has become more of a norm for the athletes, as opposed to last year when a lot of them came out of high school. I expect a great improvement on the men’s side as well,” said Elliott when describing the outlook for the men.
Last year’s NCAA Southeast Regional saw four of the seven competing men run their first collegiate 10-kilometer race. Looking back at the top five performers for the men’s cross-country team, four of the athletes combined for 14 personal-best marks during the 2019 track season. When coupled, their familiarity with the competitive distances and the continued process of development assures fans that the men’s team is trending in the right direction.
“We are going to have a real good, solid eight guys on our men’s side,” Elliott said. “John Ward and Daniel Shaughnessy are two guys that will for sure step up and help the team as much as they can. There is also some good young talent coming, along with guys we have been able to develop who can make improvements on years past.”
Last year, both squads were no strangers to elite competition, and the same holds true for the 2019 season. Elliott makes a strong effort to never shy away from the best teams in the country and knows that for his team to one day be at that level, they must surround and challenge themselves against that caliber of athlete.
“I don’t try to hide my athletes away and go to smaller meets,” Elliott said. “We want to go up front and show our athletes that this is the level to expect in our conference and at the NCAA level. I like good competition.”
As has become a familiar starting ground, the Tigers will take to Columbia, S.C., to start the season on August 31. Clemson will then make the trip up to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., as they look to not only compete against some of the best teams in the region, but also get a preview of the course which will host that season’s ACC Championship. After the trip to Blacksburg, the squad will have a chance to come back to campus, train and get ready for one of the premier meets in the country, the Joe Piane Invitational hosted by the University of Notre Dame. The annual trip to South Bend, Ind., offers the coaching staff a valuable opportunity to evaluate that year’s team against those from previous seasons. The Tigers will travel back to Indiana one last time, this time in Terra Haute, Ind., as they close out their regular season slate at the Pre-Nationals meet.
After Pre-Nationals, the team dives in to postseason competition at the ACC Cross Country Championships in Blacksburg and the NCAA Southeast regionals in Charlottesville, Va., before finishing of the season at the NCAA Championships held at LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terra Haute.
A consistent factor for the cross-country team at Clemson is their record of exemplary academic success, with the teams being some of the most consistent and highest performing in the entire department. During the 2018 fall semester, the women’s team posted a collective GPA of 3.55 and saw Morris earn USTFCCCA All-Academic honors and be named an All-ACC Academic selection for her exemplary efforts on the cross-country course and in the classroom. The men’s team continued to build upon the foundation of success they had achieved the two years prior, adding to their list of accolades a third straight appearance on the NCAA APR awards list, which recognizes the outstanding academic achievement of collegiate teams, by garnering a perfect score.
“The team is full of great students and has a strong academic background inherently,” Elliott said. “It takes a lot of discipline to run 40, 50 and 60-mile weeks and the discipline they develop in training will translate to anything they do in life. We have a good nucleus of student-athletes among the cross-country team.”