By Andrew Phillips
When Nicole Cook took the reins of the VCU Cross Country program in 2010, she inherited a runner, Brenden Leavitt, who always found himself toward the back of the pack.
Now, two full seasons later, Leavitt is one of Cook's top runners, and he's poised for a breakout senior season.
"When I got here, he was always in the back," Cook said. "I could tell just by the type of runner he is that he could be better than the level he was performing."
Cook began to work with Leavitt day in and day out to help him reach the levels she knew he could. It all started to click for him at the end of his sophomore season.
"I think he has focused himself, and he realizes he can be a much better runner than what he was training and performing [when I first got here]," Cook said. "It happened for him at the end of my first year working with him. I saw the transition of him being hungry and trying to get better."
The transitions that Leavitt made at the end of his sophomore season and over the summer paid off last year. Leavitt was one of the Rams' top performers at every meet, and became a team leader. He was determined to do well, and he was not denied.
"He was very mentally tough last year and I could tell by the way he was practicing. He was very determined to do well," Cook said.
With one year left of eligibility, Leavitt is ready to have another great season, as well as help the Rams jump into the Atlantic 10. The senior has a chance to be one of the top performers in the conference if he brings the same attitude as he did a season ago.
"I'm looking for Brenden to really step up as a senior, be a leader, and bring the charisma that he has had within the past seasons, and lead the team to a good finish in the conference," Cook said.
Leavitt's biggest challenge this season may be trying to help lead the cross country team off of the course. Cook has high expectations for his role as a leader for her team. And as a good leader should, Leavitt leads by example on the course, and not by his voice.
"He doesn't say much and never gives me a fight or anything," said Cook. "He just goes out there and rises to the occasion and competes. That's one thing I really like about him. He's not combative or anything, and that's what separates him from the rest of the guys."
Leavitt and the VCU Cross Country team begin the regular season on Sept. 15 with a meet at William and Mary.