By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE– He’s more familiar with the coastal region of his home state, but Brent Demarest also has spent some time in Rock Hill, S.C., a city about 185 miles northwest of where he grew up in Charleston. He’s even competed there — but as a swimmer, not a runner.
That’s about to change. The end of the cross country season is approaching, and the NCAA Southeast Regional is Friday in Rock Hill. UVA is among the teams competing, and Demarest is one of the favorites in the men’s 10-kilometer race, which starts at noon. (Virginia also is competing in the women’s NCAA Southeast Regional, a 6k that starts Friday at 11 a.m. in Rock Hill.)
“He’s had a really good fall of training and is in a really good place,” Virginia head coach Jason Dunn said of Demarest.
The top two teams at the regional will advance to the NCAA championships, Nov. 17 in Madison, Wis. A team that finishes third (or lower) in Rock Hill could earn an at-large bid to the NCAAs, but the Cavaliers would prefer not to take any chances.
“I definitely think the guys are ready to go,” Demarest said. “I’m ready to go.”
The Wahoos are coming off a fourth-place finish at last month’s ACC championships, a performance Demarest called “a little bit of a wakeup call.”
As a redshirt junior in 2017, Demarest had finished second at the ACC meet. This year he placed fourth. Teammates Ari Klau (20th) and Randy Neish (21st) also earned All-ACC honors last season, but Virginia (128 points) finished well behind Notre Dame (57), Syracuse (61) and NC State (85) at the meet in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
“It was just one of those days,” Dunn said.
Overall, though, there have been many more good days for the Cavaliers this fall.
“Our last race wasn’t really indicative of the way we’ve trained or the way we prepared, and it was a disappointing result,” Dunn said. “But you don’t have to go any further back than just two weeks prior to that [to find] a great race that really was much more indicative of how we prepared.”
Dunn was referring to the Penn State National Open, at which Virginia finished first in a 21-team field on Oct. 12. Demarest placed sixth, Klau was seventh and AJ Ernst was eighth for Virginia.
At the ACC meet, the Cavaliers went in with a “a real team-focused race plan,” Dunn said, “and that kind of blew up in our face a little bit. I think that maybe extended to Brent a little bit, because at Penn State, he was running with our group. They were all running together, and there wasn’t necessarily a strong reason for me to think that we couldn’t stay pretty close together again at ACCs.
“So I didn’t necessarily ask him to sacrifice his individual race, but I did ask him to really focus on the team and try to keep them together, and I think he probably had a sense that it wasn’t going that great behind him, and that can definitely affect your own individual race as well.”
Demarest, who finished 42nd at the NCAA cross country championships in 2016, just missing All-America honors, improved to 19th last year. Virginia finished 16th at last year’s NCAA meet. Demarest’s goals this fall?
“Hopefully improve to be top-10,” he said, “and I want the team to finish top-10.”
Demarest, who has exhausted his eligibility in indoor track & field, will compete outdoors for the Cavaliers during the spring semester, after which he plans to turn pro.
As a triathlete.
At Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, in addition to winning four state titles in cross country, Demarest captured seven state championships in swimming and competed in triathlons.
At UVA, his primary athletic focus is running, “but I get in the pool a few days a week,” Demarest said, “and get on the bike whenever I can.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University last spring. He’s now enrolled in a master’s program in the Curry School of Education. Medical school may be in Demarest’s future, but first he wants to test himself on the International Triathlon Union circuit.
He’s thought about running professionally, Demarest said, “but it’s one of those things where I think my performance cap would be higher in the triathlon world than in the running world.”
His mom ran at the University of Connecticut and also was an excellent swimmer, but Demarest is the first triathlete in his family. In the summer of 2014, he won USA Triathlon’s junior national championship in Ohio.
“I was a really good swimmer and then a really good runner, and someone just suggested, ‘Hey, you should try it, you might be pretty good,’ ” Demarest recalled, “and I ended up doing pretty well.”
He’s not the only UVA student-athlete who’s had success in triathlons. Demarest said he and Virginia rower Kate Hastings have competed in the same events.
In running, Demarest’s head coach at UVA until this summer was Pete Watson, who left for the University of Texas at the end of the 2017-18 season. Dunn, the director of operations for Virginia cross country/track & field in 2016-17 and 2017-18, succeeded Watson in July.
“It was nice to know him before he became our coach,” Demarest said of Dunn. “It was a pretty smooth transition. I think he’s done well for the team.”
This is Dunn’s second coaching stint at UVA. He was an assistant in track & field and cross country at Virginia for four years before taking over as head cross country coach – for both men and women – in 2004.He left in 2008 for Stanford.
“It’s been great working with Brent,” Dunn said. “He’s very steady. It’s been nice, for sure, that I had a couple years of getting to know him a little bit prior to stepping into the role of coaching him.”
Demarest lives with junior Lachlan Cook, a talented distance runner who’s injured this postseason. At 23, Demarest is the oldest of UVA’s distance runners, and he’ll leave in the spring, he said, “definitely a lot more mature” than when he arrived.
“It’s been good,” Demarest said. “I’ve loved it here, obviously, since I’ve stayed for five years. The people are great, the professors are great, the coaches have been great, the staff’s been great.”