For the first time in over 20 years, both the men’s and women’s cross country runners were given the chance to run on home turf as the University of West Georgia hosted the inaugural UWG Invitational on Sept. 22 at the UWG Athletics Complex.
The UWG men’s team finished fifth behind a number of Division I opponents, with Kennesaw State taking out first place led by individual winner, Nabil Hamid. Kennesaw State and Georgia State occupied six of the top seven spots, with UWG senior Dan Moffit the highest-placed runner for the hosts finishing in eleventh place with a time of 25:12 over the 8K course.
Fellow senior Robert Fensterer wasn’t far behind, finishing sixteenth in a time of 25:55, while David Grey just missed out on a top-20 placing, coming in at twenty-second in 26:33.
For Moffit it was his third straight race leading the UWG contingent, and his efforts were recognized a few days later when he was named Gulf South Conference Men’s Runner of the Week, the first time in his career he had been honored with the award.
Moffit was not the only UWG runner to be recognized this week, however, as freshman Tiffany Wommack was similarly named Gulf South Conference Women’s Runner of the Week after placing thirteenth in the women’s 5K race, leading the UWG Wolves to an impressive third-place finish as a team.
Georgia State was the winning team after placing five of the top six runners, while for the Wolves it was Brooke Wommack and Briana Crawford both with top-25 finishes to help push the Wolves onto the podium, ahead of Division I Georgia Southern.
Head Coach Tim Brooks was pleased with both teams’ performances, while recognizing the tireless efforts of new assistant coach Heather Estetter in organizing such a successful event. “The team and the coaches really enjoyed running on the home course and it took a lot of hard work to make it happen,” Brooks said. “I was really impressed with how assistant coach, Coach Estetter, stepped up and really took charge of running the entire event and for putting in the extra hours to make sure everything went as planned. This event never would have happened without her.”
Brooks also acknowledged the impact Estetter was having on both teams’ performance on the track, justified by Moffit’s and Wommack’s GSC recognition. “For both runners to get GSC Runners of the Week is a huge accomplishment for our program and is a great honor for both of them for the hard work and dedication they have put in this season,” he said. “Coach Estetter has been a key factor in helping this program move in the right direction and I only see us continuing to grow and become the power house/dynasty we were back in the late 90’s.”
The next big opportunity to restore that powerhouse status will come on Oct. 20 in Hoover, Ala., at the GSC Conference Championships, with Brooks confident and excited about both the women’s and men’s teams’ prospects. “It is going to be a challenging and exciting race and I cannot wait to watch our ladies shine,” he said. “[For the men] it will be a tough race at Conference with nationally ranked UAH, but I think our men are up for the challenge.”
Beyond that, the Wolves will be hoping that a strong performance at Conference will serve as the ideal preparation for a long-awaited appearance at the NCAA National Championships. Both the women’s and men’s teams took big strides towards realizing that goal as the impressive showing by the host Wolves at the UWG Invitational was reflected in this week’s regional rankings, which saw the women’s team rise from seventh to third in the Women’s South Region of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) rankings. The UWG men’s team saw a similar rise from ninth to fourth, edging closer to that elusive top-three – the cut-off for teams wishing to qualify for November’s NCAA National Championships.
With only a few more meets remaining on the schedule, Brooks has his teams primed for a great postseason. “The team knows the importance of these next few weeks and the difficult training, and the pain that goes into being a champion,” he said. “I have put in place a great few weeks of training and conditioning for them so that they peak at the right time. If the team continues to stay focused and disciplined on the task at hand, work hard and give 100 percent each and every day, then we will put ourselves in a great position to qualify for nationals for the first time in a very long time.”