Senior Samantha Stafford is a member of Virginia's cross country team that will be competing at the Southeast Regional Championships this weekend, vying for a bid to the NCAA Championships. Stafford helped the women's team to its first-ever regional championship last fall and will look to do the same on Saturday in Louisville, Ky. The women's 6k race is scheduled to start at 11:15 a.m., following the men's 10k at 10 a.m.
Question: You'll be racing at your third regional championship this weekend. What are your expectations for the race?
Stafford: My goal at regionals is to do the best that I can to contribute to another team championship. I believe that my personal goal of being All-Southeast Region, which is top-25 and I was 28th last year, is what needs to happen in order to help the team. It is my last opportunity to race cross country for UVa if we don't make it to Nationals, which I have a great deal of faith that we will qualify, so I really want to have no regrets.
Question: The women won the meet last year. Being the defending champions, does that give the team extra confidence heading into the weekend?
Stafford: I think that there is a difference between extra confidence and being over-confident and I believe that our team is confident without struggling with over-confidence just because of our title. Last year we had the advantage of being the underdogs in the sense that no one was looking for us out there on the course to be the champions. This year we will be the team to beat, so we will really be head-to-head with every team out there. I guess a sense of extra confidence could come from the memory of the intense excitement and satisfaction that we as a team had last year when we heard that we won and knowing that we are even better this year.
Question: Will this be the same course that you raced at your sophomore season?
Stafford: As far as I know, this is the same course from my first and second year, which is different from last year. I watched the team race it my first year and ran it my second, so I know this course pretty well.
However, before every meet, we will run the course as a team the day before to understand the terrain, such as where are the mile and kilometer marks are, where there are bad spots in the course, where the hills and sharp turns are, and things like that.
Question: What is the most challenging part of preparing for a cross country race?
Stafford: Well, besides the entire summer and season of training that occurs in preparation, it really is making sure that all that hard work doesn't go to waste. You can have a great summer and season of training but not do the little things the week before and cause yourself to be less than 100 percent the day of the race.
Question: As a senior, looking back on your career, what is one thing that running for Virginia has taught you?
Stafford: Appreciate everyday that you are a student-athlete. When all is said and done, all the papers, tests, jobs, etc., all fade in relevance and importance, and you realize what is really your priority: to accomplishing great things with a group of people that mean so much to you that you would go to the ends of the earth for each other, and most likely already have.
Question: How did you get into competitive running?
Stafford: My older sister was on my high school running team, so there was a personal debate on whether to join as well. I personally was a fan of playing soccer at the time and was doubtful about how much fun running races was going to be. However, I joined the high school team the summer before my eighth grade year just to try it out and the rest is history.
Question: What has been the best piece of advice that a coach or teammate has given you throughout your career?
Stafford: Coach Vigilante has given me the best advice. Believe in yourself, believe in the team and believe in your coach. Three parts to the same concept.
Question: Do you know what you'll be doing next year?
Stafford: That seems to be the most popular question of the year being asked of me. The short answer is no, I don't know what I'm doing. However, the best-case scenario will be a job in D.C. that I enjoy and also pays well.
Question: What are you most excited about as you finish up cross country and begin preparing for the indoor and outdoor track seasons?
Stafford: I am really going to miss cross country a lot, so I guess I am most excited about qualifying for Nationals and having the opportunity to race with the best group of girls I have ever known.