A Ring For Each Finger: Women’s Cross Country fifth years go five for five

Hannah Miller, Leandra Lorenz, Maggie Springer and Anna Twomeyk walk away from their cross country careers at Elon with five championship rings.

Coined by tennis legend Billie Jean King, the phrase “pressure is a privilege” captures how winners and champions must deal with sustained success. Winners of four straight CAA women’s cross country championships entering this year’s conference title meet on Oct. 27, Elon had the privilege of feeling immense pressure on race day.

Looking to close out their careers by going five-for-five in CAA championship victories, Elon’s fifth-year runners – Hannah Miller, Leandra Lorenz, Maggie Springer and Anna Twomey – felt the weight of expectations as they stepped to the starting line.

“Having won so many championships, it gives you confidence but it does build pressure,” Twomey said. “The team is really good about never taking any of the wins for granted and never getting comfortable.”

Despite Elon’s championship pedigree, victory in this year’s race was not a guarantee for the maroon and gold. With stiff competition in Stony Brook and Northeastern, the leaders for the Phoenix knew they would have to bring their best to defend their crown again.

“This year, I felt the most pressure to win,” Lorenz said. “We also knew there were two other teams that were really strong this year. It was not super safe to say in the beginning that we would win.”

But this day in October, this hunt for an unprecedented fifth-straight conference championship, may not have seemed possible for these fifth-year runners when they stepped on campus as first-year students. Before this program and class of runners were rattling off conference championships, Elon cross country had never reached such heights.

This group of fifth years has helped the program become a powerhouse and none of them could pass up the chance for one last season together and secure a CAA cross country ring for each finger.

Laying The Foundation

Soccer was Miller’s first sport growing up, but as she prepared to make the move to middle school after transferring, she took advice from her dad and joined the school’s cross country team to make friends.

“When it came time to look at colleges, I knew that I probably couldn’t play soccer in college, whereas I had a chance to run in college,” Miller said.

As Miller, a native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, began the college recruiting process, she was impressed by Elon and head coach Kevin Jermyn, who took over both the university’s men’s and women’s programs in 2017. Prior to his time at Elon, Jermyn spent 14 years as the head coach at Duke, racking up individual accolades and honors while helping Duke to a pair of podium finishes at the NCAA Championships.

After taking visits at other schools, Miller appreciated the individualization of Jermyn’s training programs, which are tailored to meet the needs of each athlete.

“At a lot of schools I would notice they had a lot of injured athletes, or that their slowest athletes and their fastest athletes were doing all of their training the same, but Kevin has every single person on the team do their own training plan,” Miller said. “I feel like that’s such an important thing with running to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your training and not getting injured.”

A hand with five CAA women's cross country championship ringsSpringer followed a similar path as Miller, as she played middle school soccer in the spring while running cross country in the fall. As she moved up to high school, Springer, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina, native, committed to running to have a shot at competing in college.

On her visit to Elon, one of the runners showed Springer their individualized training guide, which impressed her. She was also enamored with Jermyn’s organization and attention to detail, things that were lacking on her visits to other schools.

“I remember on my visit with Kevin, he had such a detailed itinerary and that always stuck in the back of my mind,” Springer said. “He had everything laid out, almost by the hour, of what I would be doing, who I would be with, the classes I’d be going to, which I thought was awesome.”

While Springer liked what the cross country program had to offer, she also has family ties to Elon, as her dad, Rob Springer, works as the university’s executive director of institutional effectiveness.

“For the longest time I tried to push off Elon so I wouldn’t follow the footsteps of my family,” Springer laughed. “But, at the end of the day, I knew I would end up here.”

Like Miller and Springer, Twomey also played multiple sports growing up. In seventh grade, Twomey, who hails from Berwyn, Pennsylvania, decided to give track a try. Through her junior year in high school, Twomey was a sprinter, but after giving up soccer, she decided to switch to long-distance running and joined her school’s cross country team.

“I enjoyed it a lot more and I was better at it than I was at sprinting,” Twomey said.

In addition to Jermyn’s training philosophies and meticulous approach, Twomey respected how he connected with his athletes.

“Immediately talking to him, he showed interest in me as a person and an athlete, which I feel like you don’t get with every school,” Twomey said.

Growing up in Germany, Lorenz was a track and field athlete from the time she was in second grade. Until age 15, Lorenz did throwing, jumping, running and sprinting, but she knew she had the most potential in running.

Lorenz learned that running in college in the U.S. was an option and got a call from Elon, among other schools. After talking to Jermyn, she knew Elon was the right fit for her.

“I could immediately tell that he cares a lot about each athlete as an individual and I heard from him immediately that he wanted me to grow as an athlete in the long term,” Lorenz said. “He has long-term goals and the athlete’s health and happiness in his mind first and foremost.”

Elon was a solid performer in the CAA before Jermyn took over the program but was never a serious threat to perennial contenders like the College of William & Mary and James Madison University. However, from the time she was being recruited, Miller could sense the culture Jermyn was trying to build would lead to both individual and team success.

“It has always been one of his main points of pride,” Miller said. “You don’t have to be the fastest runner, you just need to be someone who loves running and who puts commitment into what you do. That’s the kind of culture that he was looking to build, and I really do think I’ve seen that get stronger and stronger every year we’ve been here.”

Blossoming Dynasty

Elon arrived at the 2019 CAA Cross Country Championships in New Market, Virginia, after one of the strongest regular seasons in school history. Winners of three regular season events, the Phoenix had its eyes on its first CAA title.

The maroon and gold was also coming off an agonizing runner-up finish at the event in 2018 by a margin of two points to William & Mary. As a first-year student-athlete, Twomey was aware of how important that year’s race was for the program.

“We heard all the stories coming in from all the older girls,” Twomey said. “Conference was the big thing everyone was so excited for.”

Springer and Twomey, along with Maria Ahm, were Elon’s three first-year members of the team competing in the race. Ahm and Springer both scored for the Phoenix in a convincing 21-point victory over Delaware as the program secured its first conference championship.

Winning the conference meet in 2019 served as validation for the freshman class and seemed like the start of something special for the program.

“Coming into the program, I heard about all these goals we had since we weren’t a team that was consistently winning championships yet, but Kevin had that as his vision,” Springer said. “It was a super exciting day to see all the upperclassmen be so excited to finally get that title.”

From the time they were freshmen, the four fifth-year runners were pivotal in turning Jermyn’s vision for the program into a reality. Being committed to training, eating right, sleeping enough, recovering well and establishing positive relationships with teammates were among the factors Lorenz said have been key in Elon’s success as a program.

“Our team culture has gone a long way since winning the first CAA cross country title,” Lorenz said. “2019 was probably the most scary thing because the team had never done that, but at the same time, our confidence grew because of that. We knew we had done it and we knew what we would need to do in order to win a CAA cross country championship.”

The 2019 championship was just the beginning of Elon’s reign atop the conference. Even with elevated expectations, pressure and a target on their back, the maroon and gold kept winning, and doing so by big margins.

A 51-point CAA championship victory in the spring of 2021 (the 2020 fall season was postponed to the spring due to COVID-19) was followed by 39-point margin in the fall of 2021. The Phoenix four-peated in 2022, winning by 19 points. During the run of four straight team championships from 2019-22, Elon also had three women win the individual CAA title.

Although Elon has made winning conference championships look easy, each season brought its own set of adversities and challenges that made each title unique. Whether dealing with injuries, illnesses or overcoming stiff competition from conference foes, Elon has found ways to win CAA titles even when it looked like they might be upset.

“Every single one has been so exciting because a lot of people assume, ‘You’ve won a lot so it’s really easy,’ and it’s really not,” Twomey said. “There were a lot of times where we were not projected to win and we’ve really had to rally everyone together. We’ve pulled off some things that, on paper, we shouldn’t have. It’s been really great to see that no one takes it for granted.”

‘Grandma’ Year

After Elon won its first CAA title in 2019, the newest members of the team felt an internal pressure to build on that triumph.

“There was kind of this unspoken pressure that was like, ‘OK, we won, we should keep winning,'” Springer said. “We’ve reached a point now where it would be devastating if we didn’t win a championship.”

The group of Miller, Lorenz, Springer and Twomey all came in together in 2019. All four decided to take a fifth and final year at Elon in 2023, meaning the streak of CAA titles would have to extend from four to five to satisfy their drive for greatness.

Referring to themselves as the “grandmas” of the team this year, all four were excited about the chance to compete together again in their final season of cross country in the fall and track in the spring.

Hannah Miller, Maggie Springer, Leandra Lorenz and Anna Twomey returned for a fifth year to help Elon secure its fifth-straight CAA cross country title.

“Being here with this group of people for another year is honestly like a dream,” Springer said. “To keep helping the team get these titles and furthering the culture that we started our freshman year has really meant a lot to me.”

“I have a lot of fun being on this team and training here,” Lorenz said. “You wake up, do your training, go to class and there’s not a lot to stress about.”

“I feel like I only have once in my life to be in a situation like this and be able to focus on just running, school and my friends, and I really enjoy it,” Twomey said. “I also feel like there’s more that I want to accomplish. This has felt like home over the last five years and these are the people I want to finish it out with.”

“I absolutely was excited when I had the opportunity to do a fifth year, especially as the people we were graduating with were going off and applying for jobs and everything, I just thought it would be really fun to stay here and play college student for a little bit longer,” Miller said.

Since this class arrived at Elon, the team has never had more than two fifth-year runners on its roster at a time. All four runners acknowledged that knowing they would all be back for a fifth year together helped make their decision to return.

“I never would’ve been the only one to stay,” Miller said. “In a hypothetical situation, I don’t know if I would’ve done it.”

Elon had another successful regular season in 2023 with two victories leading into the CAA Championship but the four fifth-year runners had very different experiences. Lorenz and Twomey missed most of the regular season with injuries, with both returning in time to compete at the CAA Championship.

Lorenz, who earned All-CAA honors each of the prior three seasons, dealt with an injured heel throughout the season. She made her season debut at the prestigious Nuttycombe Invitational but began to have more sharp pain in her heel the week of the conference meet.

“On race day, I didn’t even warm up running,” Lorenz said. “I warmed up on the bike and kind of walked from the bike to the starting line, not knowing how the race would go.”

At around the midway point of the race, Lorenz felt the pain in her heel worsen but it did not slow her down, as she gritted her way to a fourth-place finish and a fourth straight All-CAA result.

“I knew my score would be important so I kept running through the pain and finished the race. I couldn’t walk after,” Lorenz said. “For this team, you sometimes sacrifice yourself a little bit. It was a good and painful experience.”

Twomey did not appear in a meet in 2023 until the CAA Championship but did not miss a beat in Elon’s most important race. She narrowly missed out on earning All-CAA honors for the third time in her career by placing 17th.

Even though Twomey was unable to have the season she wanted due to injuries, she knew the team’s depth would pick her up.

“We’ve gotten to a place where I know everybody else is going to do their jobs and do things to the best of their ability and it’s so good that we have such a great culture like that,” Twomey said. “This was probably a harder season for me, but being around all of my teammates made it a lot easier.”

Springer arrived at the CAA Championship coming off a strong regular season that included a top-10 at the adidas XC Challenge, which helped Elon win as a team. With an 11th place finish at the CAA Championship, Springer scored for the Phoenix and joined Lorenz with the fourth All-CAA result of her career.

“This sport is so anxiety-inducing and honestly, every time I’m on the start line, I’m questioning my existence and why I’m there,” Springer said. “But then after the race, it’s the feeling of satisfaction and knowing that you did something that was so painful and hard.”

Miller’s final season with the maroon and gold was highlighted by a top-five finish at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, which helped the Phoenix secure a victory. While Miller did not score for Elon at the CAA Championship, the team’s depth gave her peace of mind throughout the week.

“Going into a race, especially a high-stakes race, you’ve got this immense personal pressure of living up to your own expectations and living up to the expectations of the team. With our group this year, I feel like one of the things that’s really special,” Miller said. “We don’t have the same five girls scoring in every race. As someone who didn’t score at conference, I knew going into conference that I had a lot of confidence in all of my team members and that we had a lot of girls who are capable of really great things.”

As a team, Elon got off to an uncharacteristically slow start in the championship race and trailed in the early stages. However, the maroon and gold rallied to secure a comfortable 19-point victory, becoming the second school in CAA history to win at least five consecutive women’s championships.

“This one definitely meant a lot because I feel like this season, we’ve dealt with a lot of injuries and a lot of adversity,” Twomey said. “We were just very good about having good vibes and being supportive of each other.”

While this group of fifth years has closed the chapter on their cross country careers, they still have Elon’s track & field season to look forward to as they compete together for the final time. They will look to help the Phoenix secure its second consecutive Triple Crown by defending both the CAA indoor and outdoor track & field titles.

Not only has the group been pivotal in turning Elon’s cross country into a CAA dynasty, they will also be leaving the program in a better place than they found it. With a talented class of underclassmen runners, Elon’s days of contending CAA championships appear far from over.

“I had to come to terms with the fact this summer that I was a fifth-year captain who has done well on this team who was probably going to show up to the first day of practice and get their butt kicked by a freshman because we just recruited such amazing girls this year,” Miller said.

“They’re such a strong class,” Twomey added. “I think it’s going to be crazy to see where the team is four years from now.”

In addition to Jermyn, the fifth years credited assistant coach Alaric Gwynn, who has been with them since their freshman season, for helping the program become what it is today.

“We’re really lucky because both of them go above and beyond in every aspect and have really done such a good job of making this place feel like home and making the team what it is today,” Twomey said.

From warming up in a camping tent to stay out of the rain at NCAA Southeast Regionals, carrying stationary bikes up and down a hotel elevator at this year’s CAA Championships, taking 11-hour bus rides to get to and from events across the country and being the only team talking in the start box moments before the Nuttycombe, the memories made with Elon cross country by these fifth years will last a lifetime.

“We do a really good job of turning chaos into fun,” Springer said. “Honestly, they’re kind of interchangeable terms on our team.”

‘Rising Phoenix’ is a new student-led initiative to cover Elon Athletics. Through innovative content creation and storytelling, Elon University students will have the opportunity to highlight the moments, people and events that make an impact, leveraging the athletic department’s various web and social media platforms for distribution. Follow Rising Phoenix on Twitter and Instagram. Interested in joining this initiative as a content creator (video, graphics, writing, storytelling, or more)? Contact Jacob Kisamore at jkisamore@elon.edu.