Junior cross country runner Hayley Keady is ready to lead her team after the departure of most of its top runners. The Atlanta native and biology major has been working hard over the summer to return to racing form after an injury kept her sidelined during the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
“I’m excited to just feel like a part of the team again,” Keady said.
The team mostly works out individually over the summer. Head coach Alan Drosky sets each runner’s workouts to begin in early July, and the runners complete them on their own until school resumes in mid-August. The workouts are unique to each runner based on his or her current capabilities.
“[Coach Drosky] gives us a yearly [mileage] number, and each person’s is different,” Keady said. “Each week is the same percentage of work for everyone, and each day is the same percentage as well. Everyone is technically running different miles, but we’re all doing the same percentage of our yearly total. It’s not just ‘run 70 miles per week during the summer’; it changes week to week and builds and decreases during the year.
“It’s a really cool way to keep track of all of our miles. We each come into practice knowing what we’re supposed to do, and we stay on schedule.”
The women’s team lost five of their top seven runners last year due to graduation and needs younger members to make an impact. Keady along with her teammate and close friend Melissa Fairey are the two remaining members of those seven and aim to lead the team on its quest to determine the next five.
Seniors Morgan Jackson, Paige Selent and Diana Pressel, plus junior Sarah Bowles and freshman Mary Prouty, are poised to fill that gap, as they comprise the top workout group during practice.
“Our sport is kind of up in the air,” Keady said. “It isn’t really one where you have to set the top five or seven necessarily. It just depends on whoever steps up on that given day, which is nice. The door is always open to everyone, and whoever is having a good day takes it.”
This year, Keady says that the team is hoping for a strong performance at both the ACC Championship and the NCAA Regional meets with the possibility of sending a runner to nationals.
The women’s team last sent an individual runner to nationals in 1998 when current assistant coach Becky Megesi qualified. The whole team competed in both 2000 and 2001 after strong outings at the NCAA South Regional meets.
Personally, Keady is most looking forward to the ACC Championship hosted by Florida State.
“It is at Tallahassee, which is my favorite course,” Keady said. “We ran it for the first time last year at regionals, and I had a really good race. I’m a big fan of how the trails are actually in the woods, not the ones that are just out on grass. I’m excited for that, and I’m hoping for some good things.”
Besides the end-of-season events, the team is also looking forward to competing against Georgia tonight. However, Keady notes that the rivalry is different when compared to other sports, because so many teams are competing at the same time.
“We don’t really have one-on-one meets against anyone, so it kind of skews your scoring,” Keady said. “You can’t just say, ‘I want to score more points than them’ because you have ten other teams thrown into it. We’re always looking for good competition.”
Keady will employ the same strategy tonight that she has abided by her whole life. She likes to pace herself, starting out at a moderate pace only to pick up momentum as the race progresses and finish with nothing left in the tank.
“It’s the way I’ve always done it, and it seems to work,” Keady said.
In fact, Keady used this same method when she was ultimately offered a spot on the team out of high school. Coach Drosky invited her to the team after watching her employ this strategy to finish third at the Georgia State meet.
Before that day, Keady’s best finish in a meet was 20th place, and she had no plans to run at the collegiate level.
“I did not think I was going to run in college at all,” Keady said. “I wasn’t that good in high school. But Coach Drosky came up to me after the race, and I had no idea he was there, and he invited me to the team. It was a very rewarding experience.”
Like most cross country runners, Keady is also a member of both the indoor and outdoor track teams, but she considers cross country to be her favorite of the three sports. She is a highly motivated runner and has been inspired to run by her mother since the beginning.
“I ran my first 5K race with my mom when I was seven,” Keady said. “She has always been a big part of my life, and we always ran together when I was younger.”
If there is one aspect that Keady would like the student body to know about her team, it is the amount of effort that they put into practice.
“Cross country is definitely not very glamorous. It’s not football or anything,” Keady said. “But we work very hard. We’re up at 5 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays and still go to a full day of classes. We run an average of over 10 miles per day. We work really hard and still have pretty high GPAs.”
Both the men’s and women’s seasons begin tonight at the Jacksonville State Opener in Oxford, Ala., against other teams throughout the southeast.