Alex Gibby knew a year ago that it would take time before the Charlotte cross country program to show the promise he believed was there. No 49ers runner better exemplifies that growth than redshirt freshman Tom Nobles.
After sitting out the 2014 season, Gibby’s first as coach, Nobles has blossomed into one Charlotte’s top runners during its first four races this year.
In the three races Nobles competed in, he finished as one of the team’s top two runners. Considering those races overall results, Nobles placed in the top five twice and in the top 20 another time.
On Oct. 31, Nobles and the 49ers will test how much their improvement compares to the rest of its conference when UNC Charlotte competes in the Conference USA Championships in Bowling Green, Ky.
Nobles is one of several Charlotte men’s and women’s runners who could earn an all-conference nod. First, second, and third team all-conference teams will be evenly split among the race’s top 21 runners.
“(Nobles) continued to mature on the race course (last year),” said Gibby. “I think it’s the tip of the iceberg. He’s learned how to engage during the entire season’s duration.
“He’s learned how to keep the pedal down for the duration of the competitive effort. That’s a big reason why someone with otherwise mediocre high school credentials, can be very good at the college level.”
Nobles was a three-time all-conference runner at 4A Cary Green Hope High. His best finish at a high school state championship meet was 14th place in his senior year.
During his freshman year at Charlotte, Nobles knew he wouldn’t be one of the team’s top runners and was content to redshirt. He took a year to adapt to Gibby’s training regimen which included building up more mileage and getting the necessary nine hours of sleep every night.
“(Coach Gibby) believes in training with good habits,” Nobles said. “And you’re going to train the same way you’re going to race. If you’re feeling rough in a workout and you back off even though your body has the potential to work faster, it’s likely going to work the same way in races.”
Nobles isn’t the only Charlotte runner to show tremendous improvement over last year. He credits some of his success to the leadership of three seniors – Zach Greth, Ben Sterett, and Michael Tamayo – who could have graduated out of the program but returned for a redshirt season.
The men’s and women’s results at their final regular season race at the Wake Forest Invitational on Oct. 17 were encouraging. In a field that was their most challenging of the season, the men’s team placed second (out of 18 teams) and the women were fifth (of 17).
Sterett finished 16th overall, two spots ahead of Nobles. Junior Carolina Casin-Silva, who has been Charlotte’s top runner in three of four races, was the 49ers’ best runner at Wake Forest, placing 20th overall.
With Tiffany Long and Morgan Richards each posting three top 10 finishes this year, and junior Ashleigh Handchen and redshirt seniors Rachel Miller and Taylor Carcella having solid seasons, the women’s team may be even deeper than the men.
“It’s a work in progress,” Gibby said of the 49ers program. “With preparation and practice, we’re just light years ahead of where we were last year in terms of the work we’re doing and the quality of work we’re doing. Every variable I could potentially measure has increased dramatically. Racing performance is certainly better as well.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: email@example.com.