The team lined the start alongside 9 other teams, hearts racing. They looked to their left and saw the Embry Riddle women in the box next to them and to the right, Saint Leo, two of their biggest competitors. Each team knew the race ahead of them would be close and the place of each teammate would determine the outcome.
As the gun shot into the air and the 83 women bolted from the chalk line, the 2018 Women's Cross Country SSC Championships began. The competitors raced on rolling hills, dirt trails, and switchbacks throughout the course and the Tampa Women's Cross Country team fought hard together.
Graduate student and Tampa lacrosse alumni, Shannon Sweeney, battled top competitors in the race for a fifth place finish. In her debut of her first collegiate cross country season, she said she has more than exceeded her expectations so far.
Following Sweeney, sophomore Zoe Jarvis, placed sixth at conference. Only 6 runners later, four women powered down the stretch in a group, all wearing red. They each finished within one second of each other.
"I could see a group of girls in red coming down the course from about 400 meters away and I got so excited," said head coach, Jarrett Slaven. "It was by far one of the most exciting races to watch this season."
Fanta is the newest addition to the varsity team this season. After suffering from injuries and time off early in the season, she continued training in preparation for conference and finished as the fifth runner for UT with a new personal best in the 6K.
"I was definitely ready to race tough at conference and see where all my hard work could take me," said Fanta. "Prior to the race, I decided I was going to run as if it were my last race so that I would have no regrets. When I finished, I was in shock with how well I raced and I was instantly in tears recognizing we had potentially won and I had been one of the scoring runners."
As the race came to a conclusion and the official results were announced, the Tampa women celebrated a close win as they had beat Embry Riddle in a three-point difference and were officially named the 2018 SSC conference champions.
"Winning conference was a goal that our team had literally set after one of our first practices this season," said Sweeney. "So, to be able to achieve that goal and know that we each played such an important part to get there means a lot."
In cross country, teams are scored based on the positions of their top five runners. The place of each runner is added to compile one score and the team with the lowest score wins the meet. As Tampa scored 53 points and Embry Riddle scored 56, Coach Slaven said that Sweeney and Jarvis placing in the top 10 immediately followed by the close pack of 4 teammates made the difference.
Previously this Fall, Tampa won the Valdosta Border Clash, the Florida Tech Invitational, the Division II section of the Mt. Dew Invitational, and finished the Rock Division II Pre-Nationals with an admirable 6th place. In order to be successful, the Women's Cross Country team works together in both racing and training.
"The team has a very dedicated and passionate attitude. From the beginning we set high goals and made it our priority to work to the best of our ability individually and as a team to make the goals a reality," said Fanta. "We will continue to stay committed to each other and run with a passion and do what we love to the best of our abilities."
The women's pre-season started in mid-August and they have trained six days a week at 6 a.m since then. The team averages from seven to nine miles a day, running through the city of Tampa and implementing interval workouts on the track during the week.
In order to prepare for the season, the women also train on their own over the summer break. They began training in May with assistance from Coach Slaven and typically averaged about 500-600 miles in the three month period (45-50 miles/week). Training throughout the off-season ensures that the team will return in the fall ready to run the early races of the season.
"Training over the summer is a huge building block for us. Running every day is crucial and determines how successful we will be," said Coach Slaven. "The workouts we have run throughout this season have made my team strong and it has really shown in the races."
After six months of training and hard work, the Tampa Women's Cross Country team has high hopes of continuing their season after the upcoming South Regional race. In order to continue to the NCAA Division II Nationals in Pittsburgh, the women must place in the top three teams.
"We are all still training hard and we know Regionals is going to be tough. However, I know if we maintain our team attitude and the fire we've had all season, we can work together to achieve our goals and ultimately make it to nationals. I think great things are going to happen," said Fanta.
The women will run the NCAA South Regional on Saturday, Nov.17 at 8:45 a.m., which will determine if their season continues. After winning the SSC Conference Championships for the first time in three years, the Women's Cross Country team is determined to end their season strong.
"I love my team and finding out we won was an incredibly sweet moment, being surrounded by the girls I train hard with almost every day of the week for moments like this," said Sweeney.
Written by Sydney Rhodes