By Noah Allison
For their one-year spent in the American Athletic Conference, the Louisville cross-country team was able to take the competition and run with it. Five men finished in the top ten at the AAC Championship meet to win the conference and two women placed in the top ten to claim second place in the conference.
“Our program goal across all three sports certainly is to compete for team championships this year. Cross Country proved that our men were hands above the rest of the conference. We expected that from our men’s group, that’s what we were looking for, was to put everybody in the top ten and the guys did a great job of executing that,” Track and Field Head Coach Dale Cowper said.
Cowper took over the program after legendary coach Ron Mann retired at the end of last year.
“On the women’s side with all the new prospects and freshman that we had joining the group we knew that it would be a much better year,” Cowper said. “I think The Greater Louisville Classic is a meet that you can look back on and really see the difference. Last year at Great Louisville our ladies finished 31st and this year they were fifth. The runner-up finish at the conference meet as a group was the best finish that the women’s team has had since 1996.”
The women had considerable contribution from junior Michelle Molodynia, who provided the upperclassmen leadership, and a slew of freshman.
Junior Tyler Byrne and sophomore Ernest Kibet led the men finishing in the top two for the Cardinals in four meets. In the AAC championship Byrne finished first overall with a time of 22:57.09 and Kibet finished second overall with a time of 23:27.36. The placing was good enough for the two to represent the Louisville and the AAC at the National meet where Byrne finished 29th overall.
“Tyler just did an awesome job this year. They rotated around earlier in the season then when we got to the championship segment of the conference, the region and the national meet Tyler was just outstanding. The passion that he has right now is just something that is tremendous to watch,” Cowper said. At the national championship he picked up All-American Honors and ran a heck of a race. It was a muddy, sloppy course and a cold day, it was tough, and he closed the second half of the race really well.”
The men and women’s cross-country team enjoyed one of their best seasons in recent history. And just like the rest of the University as a whole, next year will require the Cards to step their game up as U of L moves to the ACC.
“The American Athletic Conference is not the ACC, next year will be a new challenge and we are looking forward to that,” Cowper said. “Certainly the women’s team had tremendous growth throughout the year, we are a much better team this year than we were last year and the year before. And Coach Walker has done a great job with the men’s group and I certainly look forward to seeing them continue to grow.”