Making an instant impact

Mitchell Day leads Wake Forest in freshman XC season

Courtesy Photo Former Alpena cross country standout Mitchell Day earned ACC Male Freshman of the Year honors in October. Day also earned all-conference honors, becoming the first Wake Forest freshman to achieve that since 2003.

Mitchell Day wasn’t sure what to expect when he headed to Wake Forest this fall to run cross country.

But Day has never been one to back away from a challenge and his hard work resulted in a freshman season the Demon Deacons haven’t seen in a long time.

Day made program history after he was named the ACC Male Freshman of the Year in October; the first male Wake Forest freshman to do so. He also earned all-conference honors, becoming the first Wake Forest freshman to do so since 2003.

After a decorated cross country career at Alpena High School where he earned all-state honors three times, it didn’t take long for Day to pick up where he left off when he arrived on Wake Forest’s campus in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“Coming in, I wasn’t sure (what to expect) with such a different atmosphere. I was taking things one day at a time and looking at the future, but not looking (too far ahead),” Day said. “The first difference is the amount of resources and how involved training is. It’s about what can I do to better myself? It’s much more intense and more business-like. Everybody’s here because they’ve worked really hard.”

Day ran just four races this season, but established himself as a cornerstone in Wake Forest’s lineup. In all four races he ran, Day was Wake Forest’s top male finisher and ran a personal best in every race but one.

He ran his first collegiate race in September, the Paul Short Run and led Wake Forest with a finish of 24:08. In his second race, the Adidas Pre Nationals, Day finished 56th in 24:07.4.

He finished 13th at the ACC Cross Country Championships in October, running a season-best 8K time of 23:56. He paced the Demon Deacons while earning Male Freshman of the Year and all-conference honors.

Day didn’t pay attention to his position during the race and his finish helped the Demon Deacons take sixth place at the conference championships, their highest finish since 2010.

So when Wake Forest coach John Hayes came up to Day and told him he’d won an award, Day was understandably surprised.

“(I said) oh, what is that? That’s kind of cool. I was just happy I performed well,” Day said. “I’m never going to be a freshman (again), so it’s very cool to win both of those.”

Two weeks later, Day battled through illness and led Wake Forest again at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships, finishing 34th.

Day wasn’t the only standout for the Demon Deacons this season and is one of several freshman who were recruited by Hayes to help turn around the program.

From 1989 to 1994, Wake Forest’s men’s team won four ACC championships, but hasn’t come close in recent years. In his career, Hayes has coached 52 Division 1 qualifiers and 24 first team All-Americans. He has also coached seven Division 1 champions and led his teams to 15 conference team titles.

With Hayes in charge of the program, Day is hopeful that brighter days are ahead for the Demon Deacons. They’ll have a good core of runners coming back next season with only one senior among those who competed at the conference championships.

“That’s one of the main reasons I chose Wake. Me and several of my teammates were excited with coach Hayes coming in, knowing what he’s done in the past,” Day said.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.