Winneconne, Wis. -- Tristan Lucy-Speidel crossed the regional meet finish line, and he broke down.
The lone senior on the University of Lynchburg's men's cross country team was going to nationals. It was the only goal he'd set for his college career, and in his final chance, he accomplished it.
"It reminded me how far I've come," Lucy-Speidel (Fort Valley, Va.) said of last week's sixth-place regional finish, "because regionals my freshman year, I was absolute garbage."
That year, a young Lucy-Speidel finished 99th and failed to break 29 minutes in the 8k race. Four years later, he crossed the line in 25:52.26 with a guaranteed spot in the NCAA Division III national championship meet Saturday at Lake Breeze Golf Club in Winneconne, Wis., at 1:15 p.m. Eastern time (12:15 local).
Lucy-Speidel and freshman Max Sparks (Canton, Conn.) will represent the Lynchburg men's team in the race, directly following the women's championship, in which the Old Dominion Athletic Conference women's runner of the year Kaitlyn Johnson (Spotsylvania, Va.) will compete.
Sparks' 14th-place finish at the regional meet was a bit more stressful when it came to national qualifying. He needed Berea's team to get an at-large berth to the race to make the field, and so he waited until the field was announced Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours following the regional race.
"Having to find out Sunday afternoon was super stressful," he admitted.
Sparks was the only freshman from the South/Southeast Region to make the field.
For Lucy-Speidel, it took a perfect race. Even a few weeks ago at the ODAC meet, he was way off the pace. But a solid final two weeks of training and a well-executed plan made the difference.
"He was bold, and he stuck his nose up front. He ran within himself," Lynchburg cross country coach Jake Reed said.
"Before the race it hit me that this could be my last race," Lucy-Speidel added. "I just went after it, and it really ended up working out in my favor."
His race was his fastest of the season despite the muddy course.
"Just a perfectly executed race," Reed said.
Sparks finished not far behind at 26:14.8, the first in what the Lynchburg coaching staff hopes is a long and successful career.
"He has a gross amount of talent in there," said Reed. "He's an aerobic machine."
Lucy-Speidel, who went to nationals with two of his Lynchburg teammates in his sophomore year, said what he remembers of the championships is a different atmosphere than any other meet.
"It just felt like such a relaxed environment," the senior said.
As for Reed, he just hopes his runners take that relaxation to heart. They're going, he said, with only one expectation: to have fun.
"I don't think there could be anything those three athletes could do that would disappoint me at nationals," he said.
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