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Aussie Import Racing to Success at UVA

Lachlan Cook

Sept. 6, 2017

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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Pete Watson forgot for a moment about the 14-hour time difference, and so it was not yet dawn in Brisbane, Australia, when Lachlan Cook's cell phone rang next to his bed.

The call woke Cook.

Oops.

"I said, `Sorry, I probably should have checked,' " recalled Watson, who coaches the men's distance runners at the University of Virginia.

Cook wasn't fazed. He knows communications between Australia and the United States can be tricky, and he's an even-keeled young man.

He's also a gifted runner who made an immediate impact at UVA in 2016-17. In cross country, he was named the ACC's freshman of the year. In outdoor track & field, Cook finished fifth in the 10,000 meters and sixth in the 5,000 at the ACC championships last spring.

"He lived up to all the expectations we had," Watson said. "His expectations were even higher."

Indeed, Cook said, his goal was to finish in the top 40 at the NCAA cross country meet and thus earn All-America status. He ended up placing 103rd at NCAAs.

"I had a bit of a stinker," Cook recalled. "I think I was a bit worn down from the long season. I came in wanting to impress Coach Watson immediately, so I was training pretty hard leading up to the first day of training. The first couple weeks, I was just trying to impress, so I feel like I wore myself down a bit towards the end of the season."

 

 

Watson said: "Any time you go to the NCAAs the first time, it's a different world. For any first-year kid, that's tough."

In ACC cross country, men race on an 8k course. At the NCAA meets, the distance increases to 10k, and the extra 2,000 meters can make a huge difference.

"I didn't think it was going to be too bad at first," Cook said, "but then at regionals, especially on our course" -- Panorama Farms in Earlysville -- "it's pretty challenging. If you're having a bad day, you're going to be found out."

Cook finished 12th last fall at the NCAA Southeast Regional, but it wasn't easy. "With, like, 2k to go, I was pretty toast, and I just had to grind it out," he said. "It was the same at nationals. The last 2k just found me out again."

Born and raised in Brisbane in the state of Queensland, Cook graduated from high school in November 2014 and hoped to arrive at UVA in the summer of 2015. But he came down with glandular fever and had to postpone his enrollment until last year.

Were it not for Watson's relationship with Andrew Ferris, now an assistant coach at Wake Forest, Cook never would have become a Cavalier.

Watson was an assistant coach at North Carolina before coming to Virginia in January 2012, and Ferris was a high school coach in Australia back then. Ferris flew to the U.S. to study the techniques of some college coaches here, and he ended up staying at Watson's home for a week.

"He kind of followed me around practice, we chatted and hit it off," Watson said. "I think of a lot of coaches were saying, `No, don't come.' I said, `Yeah, come on and hang out with us.' "

His friendship with Ferris opened up recruiting opportunities for Watson with promising young runners in Australia and New Zealand, including Cook, who was intrigued by possibility of being a student-athlete at a U.S. college.

One of Cook's good friends in Australia was an older runner named Patrick Tiernan, who had a spectacular career at Villanova. Tiernan won the NCAA cross country title as a senior last fall.

"I hadn't heard about the opportunity [to compete in the U.S.] before he went over, and then I saw he had great success," Cook said. "I was training with my coach I'd trained with my whole life, and I was in a bit of a hole. I wasn't improving much, and I knew I could get better. I just needed a bit of a change. So when Coach Watson messaged me, I knew I had to take a chance."

Running is not an especially popular sport in Queensland, Cook said, and that's "another main reason I wanted to come over here. When you finish high school, there's nothing there for you."

Had he chosen to continue his running career in Australia, it "would have been pretty tough for me to stay in my state," said Cook, whose father is a superintendent at a golf course in Brisbane.

"I'd probably have to move to a different state, like Victoria, [and compete for] the Melbourne Track Club there."

One of the top women's distance runners at Virginia, Frances Schmiede, is also an Aussie. She transferred to UVA from Yale this summer.

Cook committed to Virginia without visiting and, in fact, had never been to the U.S. before last summer. But he found reminders of Brisbane -- not all pleasant -- during the summer months in Charlottesville.

"It's exactly the same back home," Cook said of the climate here. "The humidity is terrible back home.

"When people ask, `Are you used to this heat? Are you used to the humidity?' I'm always like, `You can never get used to the humidity. You've just got to deal with it.' "

Cook's integration into the team went smoothly. "He's an easy-going kid. We learned that from Day One," Watson said. "He was quiet, just showed up to work and acted like an old guy. The guys love him."

His return to the classroom, however, proved to be more of a test for Cook.

"It was pretty tough. I had kind of told myself I was looking forward to the challenge of going back into school, but then actually getting back into it, it was a bit of a shock," said Cook, who's considering media studies for a major.

In cross country, the Wahoos placed second at the ACC meet and 18th at the NCAA championships in 2016, and, led by Cook, Brent Demarest and Chase Weaverling, they should be strong again this fall. Talented newcomers include Conal Wilson, a New Zealander who enrolled at UVA in January.

"I think we have nine to 10 people finishing all the workouts together, which is pretty promising," said Cook, who shares a house with fellow distance runners Matthew Novak, John Pace, Thomas Amabile, Randy Neish and JT Graass.

Cook and his teammates will compete next at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational, Sept. 23 on the Cavaliers' home course.

At the ACC championships last fall, Demarest placed seventh, Cook 11th, Weaverling 13th and Novak 29th. Among distance runners in the conference, Syracuse's Justyn Knight is the best, Watson said, but then comes "another group of four or five guys that Lochlan and Brent are right in."

Cook did not compete during the indoor track & field season. "He was tired," Watson said. Cook was also battling an injury, due in part to his grueling trip back to the United States after Christmas break.

"I fly from Brisbane to South Korea, and that's about a 12-hour flight," he said. "And then I have a layover there. And then there's another 12-, 13-hour flight from there. So I'm in transit for about 30, 36 hours.

"Every time I fly back over, I get really tired and sore. So when I start running again, I tend to get little niggles and stuff. So we just decided to take the indoor season off."

He's healthy again now and eager to improve on his first year at UVA. It's not difficult to pick out Cook, 20, when the `Hoos are running around Grounds. He's the one with The Hair.

"It's kind of like my thing now," Cook said, laughing, said of his bushy brown locks. "I can't really cut it. People just know me as the guy that runs with the `fro."

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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.

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