Couillard, Ubert return to lead Warriors after strong cross country debuts

Sherando's cross country runners Camryn Ubert, left, and Olivia Couillard, right, take a warm up lap around the track at Sherando High School during a recent practice. The sophomores are the top runners and leaders for the team this year. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando High School cross country coach Jamie McCarty had an idea what kind of talent he’d be inheriting from Olivia Couillard and Camryn Ubert for the 2015 season.

The two runners, who were freshmen at the time, already had logged plenty of experience in distance races after joining the Ribbon Breakers Track and Cross Country Club, a youth program in Stephens City, at a young age. The question for McCarty, he recalled Wednesday afternoon, was how the duo would adjust to the change in mileage and competition at the high school level.

McCarty quickly found his answer that fall.

“I don’t think at any point it was anything too crazy or too overwhelming for them,” he said. “I feel like they performed, you know, above and beyond our expectations.”

Despite their status as two of the youngest athletes on Sherando’s roster, Couillard and Ubert emerged as the Warriors’ top girls cross country runners last fall.

After completing their required two races at the junior varsity level to start the 2015 season (McCarty likes to ease freshmen into the varsity level to relieve some of the pressure, he said), Couillard and Ubert joined the varsity Warriors. It didn’t take long for Ubert, who had placed first and second in her two JV races, to run her way to the top of Sherando’s lineup.

At the 21-team Knights Crossing Invitational at Cave Spring last September, Ubert’s first varsity meet, she led Sherando with a 13th-place finish. In her third meet, the Stonewall Jackson Invitational two weeks later, Ubert took home first place.

“I think it made the transition easier,” Ubert said of beginning last season with a pair of JV races. “I kind of knew what to expect, sort of, because the first meet I was really nervous because I’d never run like a high school cross country meet like that.

“It’s just like I need to remember that I can’t put too much pressure on myself because I usually do that and then I don’t perform as well as I want to.”

While Ubert went on to lead the Warriors for most of 2015, it was Couillard who peaked as Sherando’s top performer in the postseason, when she posted the team’s top finishes in the Conference 21 West (seventh overall) and Region 4A West (23rd) meets before cracking the top 20 with a 19th-place performance in the Group 4A state championship race at Great Meadow.

Ubert, who admitted Wednesday that she didn’t run as well as she would’ve liked in her first postseason (she placed 11th, 29th and 21st in the conference, regional and state, respectively), was right on Couillard’s heels in all three of those meets, however. In fact, just eight seconds separated the two runners between all three postseason races.

Crossing the finish line as a pair isn’t always necessarily the plan for Couillard and Ubert. McCarty encourages his runners to not only compete with opposing teams but also amongst themselves as teammates – he called each race a “free-for-all” for the Warriors – although more often than not Couillard and Ubert, who have been best friends for five years, find themselves side-by-side during races.

“We still don’t hold each other back but we keep each other from dying out,” Couillard said.

“There’s just a really strong bond and I feel like we can understand each other’s pain in the races, so we kind like help each other, motivate each other without saying anything.”

Its that camaraderie on the course that Couillard said was her biggest revelation when introduced to high school cross country.

“It made me realize that cross country is not just an individual (sport),” she said. “Like in some of the races I’d be running with my teammates and they’d help me. It made it seem more like a team sport and I didn’t know that before I joined high school cross country. And there’s a lot more strategy to each race than I thought, because I used to run before I joined high school and now it’s like I realize there’s a lot of strategy in each race.”

Couillard and Ubert – who is fully healthy after dealing with shin splints during track season, she said – are now a year more experienced and, as sophomores, have three more seasons to build on their stellar debut, a prospect that has McCarty eager to see what the 2016 season holds in store for the Warriors.

Sherando as a team placed third in the conference, sixth at the regional and eighth out of 12 teams at the state meet last season, and returns an experienced core that also includes junior Paige Conner (48th in the state meet) and sophomore Stella Williams (65th).

“It’s good that they were able to have a good conference meet, go to regionals and then go to states, where they really got that full spectrum and that full experience, so I think that makes it a little bit of an easier transtision for us coming into this year,” McCarty said. “It’s kind of old hat to them. They’ve kind of been through all that so I think it makes it a little bit easier for them.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com