Although the William and Mary track and cross country coaching staff has been in a major state of transition this year, one thing remains the same: total domination of the Colonial Athletic Association Cross Country Championships.
The men won their 17th consecutive conference championship Oct. 29 at Delaware, and the women won their fifth consecutive CAA team title. Both teams continue their championship season Friday at the NCAA Southeast Region championships at Panorama Farms in Charlottesville.
Things changed dramatically in June when W&M Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Stephen Walsh resigned after six years to work in his family business. Since then, 2009 W&M grad Alex Heacock became the interim director of track and field after two years as assistant coach for throws.
Chris Solinsky, an assistant coach the past two years for men and women, was named the head men's distance coach, and has been the head men's cross country coach this fall. He will coach the men's distance and middle distance runners in indoor and outdoor track.
Solinsky has exceptional credentials. At Wisconsin, he was a 14-time All-American and five-time NCAA champion. As a professional runner, he broke the American record in the 10,000 meters with a time of 26:59.60, the first man not born in Africa to break the 27-minute barrier. He also ran 12:55.53 in the 5,000 meters (second all-time in the U.S.) and 3:54.1 in the mile.
Mike Henderson was hired as assistant cross country and distance coach for men and women, coming from Princeton's track program. And Lizzie Powell — a 2015 W&M grad who broke the W&M indoor pole vault record with a jump of 13 feet, 8 ¼ inches — was named the director of operations for track and field and cross country. The one coach remaining with the same position was women's head distance coach Natalie Hall.
At Delaware's White Clay Creek State Park course in Newark, the W&M men placed their top seven among the top 11 finishers, all earning all-conference CAA honors. They had an impressive 1-5 split of just 16 seconds, and a 1-7 split of just 24 seconds. The team score had W&M with 26 points, followed by Northeastern (46), Elon (84), College of Charleston (123), UNC-Wilmington (143) and Hofstra (145).
Elon's Nick Ciolkowski defended his CAA championship with a time of 25:08.1 for the 8,000-meter course. W&M's top seven runners (of 12 entries) were redshirt junior David Barney (3rd, 25:23.1), junior Dawson Connell, a York High grad (4th, 25:26.6), senior Faris Sakallah (5th, 25:28.1), senior Trevor Sleight (6th, 25:30.8), sophomore Ryan McGorty (8th, 25:39.7), red-shirt junior Cavendar Salvadori (10th, 25:46.2) and junior Chris Hoyle (11th, 25:47.1).
The men's 17th consecutive conference title is the second longest active streak in the nation, and the fourth longest in NCAA history. They have now won 39 conference titles, third all-time behind just Wisconsin and Arkansas, with 24 of those CAA titles.
Among CAA sports, only the W&M women's tennis team has won more championships. Including all sports, men and women, W&M now has a league leading 130 CAA championships in its 34-year history (49 men's and 81 women's).
Earlier in the season, the Tribe men placed seventh of 16 on Oct. 14 in the Penn State National Open, and sixth of 14 Sept. 30 in UVA's Panorama Farms Invitational (same course as the NCAA regionals), with most of the teams ahead of them nationally ranked.
All-American Regan Rome has been No. 1 for the Tribe all-season long, placing second at the Richmond Invitational, first at the W&M Invitational, first at Panorama Farms, and fourth at Penn State, and is ranked among the top 25 collegiate women in the nation.
At the CAAs on the 6,000-meter Delaware course, the junior won by 4 seconds with a time of 21:12.6. Following for W&M were three "Mollys:" junior Molly Breidenbaugh (4th, 21:33.3), Peninsula Catholic grad and junior Molly McKenna (5th, 21:46.7) and redshirt junior Molly Applegate (7th, 22:01.5), all earning all-CAA honors. Completing W&M's top seven (of 12 entrants) were redshirt freshman Kathryn Eng (17th, 22:31.7), junior Audrey Gordon (20th, 22:37.6) and freshman Charlotte Kowalk (25th, 22:51.5).
The team score had W&M winning with 34 points, followed by James Madison (47), Elon (66), Northeastern (120), Towson (123), host Delaware (161), College of Charleston (167), Hofstra (246) and UNC-Wilmington (277). The conference title was the Tribe's 22nd overall, tied for third all-time in NCAA history. Only women's tennis and men's cross country (24 each) have won more CAA titles.
Perhaps dependent on their fifth runner, the W&M women have a good shot at qualifying for the NCAA national championships, whether automatic or at-large, and Rome certainly is a strong candidate individually to place high in the region and make All-American at nationals.
The team had placed eighth of 19 teams at the Penn State Invitational, and fifth of 13 teams at the Panorama Farms Invitational, with most teams ahead of them nationally ranked.