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Everything You Need to Know about the 2022 UCF Cross Country Team, with Anne-Marie Blaney

UCF Cross Country legend Anne-Marie Blaney helps us preview the 2022 UCF Cross Country team.

Issabella Richardson in the 2022 UCF Invitational.
Noah Goldberg

The UCF Knights’ Cross Country team gets the athletic year started for the overall Track and Field program, which is coming off of back-to-back AAC titles in both Indoor and Outdoor seasons.

However, cross-country runners have not had such luck in their AAC Championship meet. This fall, another crop of predominantly young runners will take the course with an opportunity to change that.

All of those runners chase the marks left behind by Anne-Marie Blaney, whose exploits include winning the AAC Individual Championship in 2013 and 2016 and an NCAA South Regional individual win in 2016. She also holds 11 of the program’s 15 fastest 5K runs and 10 of the program’s 15 fastest 6K runs.

Blaney joins us to tell you everything you need to know about the Knights for 2022.

How Cross Country Team Scoring Works

The top seven runners on a team are given points based on their finishing order in the race.

For Example:

1st Place: Runner A, UCF = 1 point

2nd Place: Runner B, USF = 2 points

3rd Place: Runner C, FSU = 3 points

The scores of the top seven runners from every team are added together and the lowest score wins. Essentially, the more runners a team has finish in the front, the better.

Last Season

7th in the American Athletic Conference Championship

15th in NCAA South Regional

In the team’s first normal season since the pandemic began, the team did experience a regression in the AAC Championship meet, finishing 7th place after capturing 5th in the COVID-delayed 2020 meet.

However, the Knights, comprised predominantly of freshmen, ended off the season by taking 15th place as a team in the NCAA South Regional, their highest finish in the event since 2014.

The team also notched a pair of runner-up finishes in Boca Raton and Gainesville and took a victory in the UCF Invite.

This Season

Ranked 15th in the South Region by the USTFCCCA

A predominantly young team once more, the Knights begin their season right on the edge of the Top 15 in the South Region, according to the USTFCCCA preseason regional rankings.

Elsewhere in The American, Tulane and SMU both rank in the Top 7 of the South Central Region, Cincinnati starts No. 11 in the Great Lakes Region, Temple is No. 14 in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and defending conference champion Tulsa starts ranked No. 8 in the Midwest Region as it chases its fourth consecutive AAC title.

The Golden Hurricane looks like a threat to repeat once more, especially with the conference championship meet being held in Tulsa this season. Though, Tulsa was also the site of UCF’s best finish in the AAC Championship meet to this point: a 4th-place effort in 2014.

Who’s in Charge

Bryan Jackson — 5th season at UCF

UCF Athletics

While Bryan Jackson may be listed as an assistant coach to head track and field coach Dana Boone, Jackson’s specialty is working with the distance runners of the track team, including the cross country runners.

While success in the conference championship has eluded Jackson in his five seasons with the team, the 15th-place finish in the NCAA South Regional was the team’s best finish in the meet under him.

Now, Jackson returns with a team once again dominated by underclassmen, only this time there is an even split between the sophomores and the freshmen.

Watch our preview video with Coach Jackson here:

Anne-Marie’s Keys For the Season

2019 Sunset Tour
UCF alum Anne-Marie Blaney before the Women’s 5K race at Azusa Pacific University Cougar Stadium in 2019.
Set Number: X162756 TK1

Cross country season is all about moving forward as a pack in competition. A common saying in this sport is, “You are only as strong as your weakest link.” Each person’s place counts towards the overall score, meaning your last scorer can be your most important teammate. Don’t count them out!

Do the little things. Get a good night’s rest. Eat well-balanced meals (but still treat yourself). Take care of the little nagging aches and pains. Spend time in the training room. Take ice baths. Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

Make a race plan with Coach Jackson and then execute it.

Celebrate the PRs and learn from hard races. Breakthroughs will be right on the other side as long as you keep knocking. Give your best effort on that day for each race and have no regrets!

Most importantly: HAVE FUN! When you enjoy what you do, success just comes naturally. Bring a friend with you to the gym, to foam roll, anything! Give your coach a hard time (in a nice way). You’re making the best memories even though you may not realize it until after.

Runners to Watch

Charlotte Crook

Coming off a track season where she broke the program’s Indoor 1,000-meter and outdoor 1500-meter record, Crook returns to the Cross Country team as its elder stateswoman.

“The girls really look to her as like a big sister, and every year she’s kind of embraced that role more and more and more,” Jackson said. “I think now she’s really putting herself in a position where she’s almost like a second coach out there.”

Crook ended her 2021 cross country season by setting a new personal best in the 6K, 22:02.52, at the NCAA South Regional in Huntsville, Alabama. The meet is slated to return to Huntsville again this season.

Mariana Rodriguez

Fresh off of a silver medal with the Distance Medley team, Rodriguez enters 2022 as the team’s lone junior. She joins Crook and Katie Pinnell as the team’s only upperclassman runners.

Rodriguez, who had not ran a 5K in under 10 minutes prior to 2021, set new personal bests in both the 5K (18:49.1) and the 6K (23:00.9).

Jackson said that last season made Rodriguez start to see herself as a cross-country runner.

“Now that she’s going into the season already with that level of confidence, I definitely can see her making another big jump this season,” Jackson said.

Who We’ll Miss

Valerie Lastra

Lastra will not return to the team this season after etching her name into the UCF Cross Country record book.

She broke the program’s record for fastest 4K run that had stood since 1998, and the program’s two freshman records in the 5K and 6K. Lastra’s 5K time was the 10th-fastest in program history, and her 6K time was the 9th-fastest in program history. Only Anne-Marie Blaney and Sonja Sheddon have recorded faster 5K and 6K times.

Who’s New That’s Good

Isabella Richardson

This New Zealand native committed to the Knights just over nine months ago and Jackson said she was one of two new athletes that stuck out to him from a training perspective.

According to her World Athletics profile, she has run in 800-meters, 1500-meters, one mile, 3000-meters, and 5Ks throughout her track and field career thus far.

For cross-country purposes, her personal best in the 5K currently sits at 18:10.36 from a race in March 2021. The time sits as the second-fastest 5K personal best on the team, only beaten by Charlotte Crook (18:09.2).

Penelope Sosa

The second true freshman that Jackson said stood out to him in training was Miami native Penelope Sosa.

In terms of her cross-country running, Sosa is coming off capturing an individual FHSAA 4A State Championship in her high school senior season. Her 18:12.4 time in the meet is now her personal best in the 5K, which means she pulls in behind Crook and Richardson for the third-fastest 5K personal best on the team.

Roster Breakdown

  • 3 Upperclassmen (2 seniors, 1 junior)
  • 8 Sophomores
  • 8 Freshmen
  • 2 International Runners

2022 UCF Cross Country Roster

Name Year Hometown 2021 School 2021 Season Bests
Name Year Hometown 2021 School 2021 Season Bests
Andrea Ballestero Fr. Clearwater, Fla. Osceola HS 5K: 19:22.5
Charlotte Crook Sr. Preston, England UCF 5K: 19:20.0 , 6K: 22:02.6
Mackenzie Czurak So. Winter Springs, Fla. UCF 5K: 18:57.9 , 6K: 23:22.3
Alexandra Del Re So. Tequesta, Fla. UCF 6K: 23:45.2
Lillian Holtery So. Niceville, Fla. UCF 5K: 18:41.5 , 6K: 22:23.3
Kendall Hughes Fr. Brandon, Fla. Newsome HS 5K: 19:29.3
Paige Jaszczak Fr. Mims, Fla. Titusville HS 5K: 19:05
Riley Jaszczak Fr. Mims, Fla. Titusville HS 5K: 19:19
Paige Kelly So. Niceville, Fla. UCF 5K: 21:32.7
Sofia Lantz Fr. Lake Mary, Fla. Lake Mary HS 5K: 20:04.6
Brenna Mullaney So. Severna Park, Md. UCF 5K: 19:41.6
Katie Pinnell Sr. Coconut Creek, Fla. UCF 5K: 20:23.8 , 6K: 23:31.3
Zoe Pustilnik Fr. Delray Beach, Fla. Spanish River HS 5K: 19:35.1
Megan Rhodes So. Longwood, Fla. UCF 5K: 22:10.3
Issabella Richardson Fr. Auckland, New Zealand St. Cuthbert's College 5K: 18:10.36
Mariana Rodriguez Jr. San Antonio, Texas UCF 5K: 18:49.1 , 6K: 23:00.9
Penelope Sosa Fr. Miami, Fla. Miami Coral Park HS 5K: 18:12.4
Rachel Wheatley So. Port Orange, Fla. UCF 5K: 19:12.9 , 6K: 23:03.3
Camryn Williams So. Keystone Heights, Fla. UCF 5K: 20:19.0 , 6K: 25:45.8

Schedule Breakdown

With the NCAA South Regional returning to North Alabama for the second straight season, the Knights will get the chance to preview the course during their second race of the season.

The UCF Invite also makes a return to open the season and the team will return to Boca Raton for the FAU Invitational, a staple of the Cross Country schedule under Jackson.

The team will close out the regular season with a trip out to Texas A&M for a run in the central time zone before competing in the AAC Championship meet in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

2022 UCF Cross Country Schedule

Date Day Time Meet Location Host School 2021 Team Result Team Average Time (Distance)
Date Day Time Meet Location Host School 2021 Team Result Team Average Time (Distance)
Sep. 2 Friday 6:30 p.m. UCF Invite Orlando, FL UCF 1st 17:15 (2.9 Miles)
Sep. 16 Friday 8:15 a.m. North Alabama Showcase Huntsville, AL North Alabama N/A N/A
Sep. 30 Friday 6:30 p.m. Florida Atlantic Invitational Boca Raton, FL FAU 2nd 18:57.68 (5K)
Oct. 15 Saturday 9:45 a.m. Arturo Barrios Invitational College Station, TX Texas A&M N/A N/A
Oct. 28 Friday TBA American Athletic Conference Championship Tulsa, OK Tulsa 7th 22:50 (6K)
Nov. 11 Friday TBA NCAA South Regional Championship Huntsville, AL North Alabama 15th 22:29 (6K)
Nov. 19 Saturday 10:00 a.m. NCAA Cross Country Championship Stillwater, OK Oklahoma State N/A N/A

The Last Time...

UCF finished NCAA South Regional better than 15th: 2014 (14th).

UCF finished Top 5 in Conference Championship Meet: 2020 (Delayed by COVID).

UCF finished Top 3 in Conference Championship Meet: 2002.

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