Staff Writer: Michael O’Neill
WINGATE, N.C. – The Wingate University men’s and women’s cross-country teams are striving to repeat as South Atlantic Conference champions for the first time in program history. Their goals to compete and overcome obstacles together have been helpful for head coach Pol Domenech’s approach to the sport.
The men’s team fared well in the Fall of 2021 after placing first in four meets: The Bulldog Stampede, the Pre-National Meet, the SAC Championship Meet, and the NCAA Southeast Regional Meet. The women’s team also placed first in three meets.
According to a preseason poll by the conference, the men’s team were picked to win the conference again after a productive season and sixth-place finish at the NCAA Division-II national championship meet.
Domenech is entering his second year as the head coach of the cross-country programs, but he is confident that their offseason production is translating to continued success on the pathway. He has the combination of being a player’s coach and having expectations for a championship-caliber program.
“(Cross Country) is a lot more like proper fitness that is a personal win,” Domenech said. “Just got to make sure we’re doing the right things in training and getting the girls and guys ready for when it matters. I think we have just as good as a team as last year, so definitely the goal is to accomplish that to win both championships.”
According to Domenech, the strength of the men’s team is their depth and depends on the ten guys starting in each regular season meet. Some players returning to anchor the men’s team include junior Bastian Mrochen (Liebenau, Germany), sophomore Scott Nutter (Blencogo, U.K.), and graduate student Oliver Way (London, U.K.) – who were honored by the conference as Runners to Watch for 2022.
Mrochen helped the Bulldogs with an individual gold-medal victory at the 2021 Bulldog Stampede with a time of 25:34.6 in the 8K race. He also earned All-South Atlantic Conference and Region honors after performing elite at the post-season events. Domenech looks forward to working with him on his team leadership.
On the women’s team, Wingate returns a sophomore All-American runner from Molina de Segura (Gemma Rebollo), who placed eighth in the outdoor national championship meet in New Orleans in June. The Bulldogs also return two seniors: Tatjana Mense (Bremen, Germany) and Meg Rapley (Wickford, U.K.).
Some promising rookies may become program contributors in the next four years, including freshman Isaac Mendoza (El Paso, Texas) for the men’s team and transfer student Tamica Jooste (Cape Town, South Africa) for the women’s team.
While the players already know how to set team times and school records on the pathway, Domenech’s focus is on getting the minds of his racers “ready to suffer for thirty minutes.” He also has aspirations for the programs to win the regional and national championships.
“It has tolls, and it plays a big role,” Domenech said. “If your mind is not ready to put your body to the limit for a long amount of time, we’re going to lose. I want to do pre and post to make sure we race one race and move forward to the next one. … It’s getting brains prepared to do what they’re capable of doing.”
The Bulldogs will kick off the 2022 season at the Catawba Fleet Fleet Invitational at Salisbury, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 3.