Behind the Scenes with GSU Student-Athletes: Cross Country

Makenzie NailThrough the end of the year, InsideGSUSports will have a different student-athlete(s) talk about a different topic every week. Topics will range from how practice is going to an event that they are looking forward to coming up. It will be their chance to talk about what is going on with their sport. This week, cross country runner Mackenzie Nail talks about her first season with the Panthers.

I if I said that my first cross country season as a Georgia State Panther was a little tough and just a wee bit tiring, it would be a huge understatement. But if I said that the 8 a.m. practices, with the stench of chlorine pool running, 15-pound weights that made us feel weak, and the hundreds of miles we’ve spent running up Kennesaw Mountain and around the College Park Golf Course actually weren’t worth it, I’d be telling a huge, huge lie.

Being a freshman on the GSU cross country team has definitely given me a new perspective and appreciation for college athletics. Sure, I’ve seen college runners run many races and compete many different times, but I never truly realized just how much time, dedication, drive, positivity, and strength it takes to be not only a collegiate athlete but also an influential teammate and a meaningful athlete to your coach. Throughout my first season, I have thankfully been surrounded with the best coach and some absolutely amazing teammates who also double as my biggest role models. Without them, this season would’ve been a lot tougher to tackle!

While preparing for the Sun Belt championship meet which took place this past Saturday, Nov. 2 in Troy, Ala., our team tried not to overthink the upcoming race, treating it just like any other. Although we felt that we were physically prepared to compete, we knew that our mental strength was about to be tested tremendously. Sports psychologist Duke Biber prepared an insightful presentation for us before we departed. After listening to his presentation, it was clear that our team was also mentally prepared and ready to take on the upcoming meet.

Being on such a small team of seven girls this year has given us all reason to train hard on the hard days, easy on the easy days, and to take good care of ourselves when we weren’t there to care for each other. With that being said, we tried to be in bed before 10 o’clock every night, 9:30 if we were lucky…and yes, I know in college that’s a sad thing to get excited about! We took our Vitamin C, Airborne tablets, and did all of those other things to stay strong and healthy until the conference meet.

The morning we left for conference was actually quite exciting as Coach England huddled us into the hallway of the Sports Arena while we patiently wondered what he was up to. A few minutes later, we were told to load the van, and little did we know that tons of encouragement, smiling faces, and goodie bags were waiting for us around the corner! The entire track team, members of the athletic department, and some other student-athletes made an appearance to send us off with their excitement and support. It was really a nice surprise knowing that our fellow GSU Panthers were thinking of us while we traveled and raced.

Upon arriving in Troy, we ran our pre-race workout and had our usual meeting with coach. After his meeting, we were pumped, and we really took away two great points. EVERY runner on our team matters and is vital to our success, and EVERY place counts in such a big meet!

Later that night, we all dressed up for the Sun Belt banquet, so we started out by taking pictures. Thanks to our athletic trainer, Aaron, for being our unsuspecting photographer that night! The seniors were recognized and the academic accomplishments of each team were also recognized. In fact, Georgia State walked away with the Highest Team GPA award in the Sun Belt Conference! My teammates are such smarties. 🙂

Before we knew it, it was race-day morning, and we were trying to hide our nerves. Just a little bit later, we were already reporting to the starting line and chanting our “G-A-S-T-A-T-E STATE” cheer. Coach emphasized that this race would be a tough one, but that we were prepared. The gun goes off, and after climbing many hills, running through mushy, muddy puddles, and sprinting to the finish chute, the race was over, and we finished fourth overall as a team in the 10-team race. All four top teams are ranked in top 15 in Region polls, so it is a challenging league, but we belong with our No. 14 ranking going in. Juniors Hannah Stefanoff and Niamh Kearney made the Sun Belt All-Conference team with Hannah finishing third and Niamh finishing seventh.  It was a proud moment for all of us to see our two junior teammates receiving their well-deserved awards. 🙂

Now that my freshman season is winding down, I have to say that I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about the way this season has played out. I couldn’t be any more thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, the ladies I’ve raced against, and for the most amazing teammates, coaches, and support system. God has truly blessed me. It’s always a great day to be a Georgia State Panther!

–Mackenzie Nail

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