Wright State runners head to big meets with little preparation

Wright State's Shelby Nolan runs in the Queen City Invitational cross country meet in 2019. Nolan, a senior, and the Raiders begin the 2021 track season on Friday. Wright State Athletics photo
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Wright State's Shelby Nolan runs in the Queen City Invitational cross country meet in 2019. Nolan, a senior, and the Raiders begin the 2021 track season on Friday. Wright State Athletics photo

FAIRBORN — Wright State star runner Shelby Nolan has exhausted her eligibility in cross country, but she still has one season left in track, and her list of accomplishments at the school just keeps growing.

The Whitehouse, Ohio, native broke the program record for the mile at Purdue Fort Wayne two weeks ago, clocking a 5 minutes, 2 seconds. That’s also the best time in the Horizon League this year, but it probably doesn’t come close to touching her real potential.

She had COVID-19 in December, which disrupted her training. And Rick Williamson, who coaches track and cross country, called that race simply “a rust-buster for her.”

She’ll compete in three events in the conference indoor championships at the same site this weekend: the mile, distance-medley relay and 3,000-meter run.

“She broke the school record the first meet this year, and she’s not really a miler. She’s more of a distance runner. The fact she’s breaking records in the shorter distances is a pretty good sign,” Williamson said.

A redshirt season she took in track has allowed her to compete this winter and spring while working on her Master’s.

She was second in her last stab at the Horizon League cross country championships in November of 2019, setting the 5K school record at 19:54.5.

The women finished fourth that season and the men, led by senior Nathan Dunn’s second-place showing, came in fifth. But both teams went 15 months without formal competition because of the virus, convening again at the Wright State Invitational earlier this month.

That event was just a three-team warm-up, which is why Williamson has no idea what to expect at the league championships Thursday in Carmel, Ind.

“It’s just been chaos,” he said. “Some athletes need that consistent competitive schedule to stay on target, where other people can grind away at training, and it doesn’t really bother them. There’s no in between. But we’re not different than any other program,” he said.

“In the one meet we had, I was fairly impressed after being off so long — there was so much time without practice. But so few teams in the league have actually run cross country meets. That’s the other thing. We kind of know how we’re doing, but we don’t know about them.”

Dunn — a four-time all-league selection who lost in a photo finish to Oakland’s Connor Goetz in the last league meet — will be sorely missed.

Junior Max Pettit, who finished 19th, is back. But veterans Jacob Poling and Ben Bowers will miss the league championships because of injuries, meaning three of the Raiders’ top four runners and four of their seven overall will be freshmen.

The women were hard hit by graduation, losing stalwarts Molly Kearns and Victoria Angelopoulos along with Nolan. But Abigail Halsey, a senior from Tipp City, is back and made second-team all-conference with her 10th-place finish in the last league meet.

Lauren Shuman, who finished 22nd, Alicia Neumeier (39th) and Megan King (44th) have also returned.

Halsey, who will run the 5,000 meters in the indoor track championships, and Nolan are constant running buddies — maybe because so few in the program can match their dedication.

“They motivate and push each other,” Williamson said. “We have a (daily) routine, and I understand not everyone is going to do it all the time. But these two, they don’t miss one exercise any day. It’s crazy how diligent they are, and certainly it shows in their performances.”

Having the cross country and indoor track seasons staged so close together isn’t something anybody wanted.

But while Williamson believes good outcomes are possible, he’s grateful the NCAA is granting all athletes a free year of eligibility for 2020-21.

“We’re just trying to get back into the groove of competing,” he said. “Hopefully, spring will be somewhat normal, and then, next (fall), we can actually see how good and competitive we are.”