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The Pitt News

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Feature | Pitt cross country is trending upward in 2023

Pitt+Cross+Country+runners+compete+at+a+home+meet+in+Sept.+2019.+
TPN File Photo
Pitt Cross Country runners compete at a home meet in Sept. 2019.

Pitt men’s and women’s cross country have left much to be desired for fans in recent years, but this year’s group of runners is turning the program around. The team is improving in 2023 and hopes to continue on that path.

The Panthers headed west to South Bend, Indiana, last Friday, looking to springboard off of its early season success and impress the rest of the ACC along the way. At the Joe Piane Invitational, the women notched sixth place out of 16 teams while the men took 11th. Both teams improved from last year, showing the upward trajectory of this group of runners. 

Both the men’s and women’s teams finished in the top three in each of their first two meets. Two strong performances are a great way to start the season for sure, but senior runner Emily Brown said the real challenge is only just beginning.

“Our season begins at Joe Piane, at Notre Dame,” Brown said. “This is the first meet where we’re stacking up against a lot of other really good, nationally ranked teams. Teams that are going to be at the NCAA national championships in November.”

Brown hopes for the best for herself and her teammates. But not so long ago, hope was hard to find in Pitt’s cross country program. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the team hard back in 2020, as the number of runners was down, and the responsibility fell on then-first-year students to lead the team. 

When asked about how her leadership role has changed over the past two years, junior runner Winnie Incorvaia did not think it changed that much.

“I think there wasn’t really much of a transition because when I was a freshman, our team was very young,” Incorvaia said. “So our team was mostly freshmen and sophomores.”

Brown also added that the team looked very different in her first year. 

“When we started, our team was very much in a developmental phase, and we still are in that developmental phase, but we’re just in a different point in that now,” Brown said. “And so it’s been really exciting to see the team evolve through the past four years.”

During those years, the teams surely went through tumultuous times, but they grew and improved, and they are now performing at a much higher level. 

“When we look back on the past four years, I can see a clear progression in the team becoming more accepting and people becoming genuinely close,” Brown said. 

Incorvaia noted the difference in team culture, and how close the runners became since she first started running with the Panthers. 

“It’s been a lot better because we have more team bonding opportunities, so you can connect more so when we get to the start line, we know who we’re running for,” Incorvaia said. 

The improvement in team culture is showing in 2023, with the teams building momentum through their first three meets. But how the teams capitalize on the momentum is critical. 

“You want to help your teammates get to that next level because if you elevate your teammates, you’re automatically elevating yourself,” Incorvaia said. “So at practice every day, we’re elevating each other, especially during workouts too. If it’s a tough workout or a tough rep, you just try to call each other and try to stay as a pack, because that will translate really well into races, so that’s the overall goal.” 

With the program rapidly improving, it’s natural to aim for lofty goals. But Brown said the teams are just enjoying the process and success.

“Obviously, the goal in the future is always to make an impact in the ACC, and go to that national championship,” Brown said. “But our coaches put a lot of emphasis this season on not having specific goals and being more process-oriented. He says that being process-oriented and working on improving as a unit is what’s going to get us to achieve those goals rather than just focusing on a specific number.”

The strong showing at the Joe Piane Invitational does not mean the team will not face obstacles. Problems — such as poor workouts and disappointing races — will arise, but the teams have the mindset to overcome them. 

“My mindset is that’s just one in a million other races in our lifetime,” Incorvaia said about potential poor performances. “It’s like one bad test. There are going to be so many more races to be run, and not all of them are going to be perfect. Sometimes you have to have the bad days to make the good days feel really exciting.” 

If the teams keep improving as well as they are, then good days are ahead for the program. The team travels to Charlottesville on Oct. 14 to compete at Pre-Nationals, giving them a chance to preview a course they will hopefully run again on Nov. 18 at the NCAA National Championship. 

About the Contributor
Eli Smith, Staff Writer