Healthy cross country ready for UAAs

Finally at full health, the men’s and women’s cross country teams look for a strong show at the UAA Championship Saturday.

By Chris Boots

While the UAA is known as a powerhouse in most sports, its prowess in cross country might take the cake.

Boasting four top-15 squads in the men’s rankings and three nationally ranked teams on the women’s side, the conference perennially produces NCAA title contenders. The Maroons will have their work cut out for them Saturday as they look to beat these elites at the UAA championships, hosted by Emory. Once the team to beat in the UAA, neither Maroon cross-country squad has won since the men and women swept the honors in 2004.

“The UAA conference is outstanding,” head coach Chris Hall said. “I believe on the men’s side it is arguably the best in the country, with teams currently ranked sixth, 10th, 12th, and 13th in the country and a number of other schools like ours, Wash U, and Brandeis that have beaten teams ranked in the top 30. The women’s conference also belongs in the conversation with the best in the country. Case Western is sixth, Wash U 18th, Brandeis 35th, and Emory was nationally ranked throughout the year. It’s a great meet.”

Traveling to Atlanta, both the men and women are well rested, looking to see everyone perform to his or her potential for the first time since September. After a strong start to the season gave both teams first-place finishes in their first two meets, the Maroons have faced illness and inconsistent performances that have led to less-than-expected results in their subsequent contests.

“For the most part, our problems have not been injury but a lot of sickness,” Hall said. “I think the team seems to be pretty healthy right now, and it is fair to have expectations at this time of the year that everyone is physically ready to give their best performances. For us to make a dent in this conference, we do need to have a great effort. The team looks good in practices, and I do feel [we] should be ready for that full team performance we have struggled to find throughout the season.”

At full health, Chicago should be able to contend with the best of them. The women’s conference could see a shake-up this year, as defending champion Wash U graduated many of its best athletes and Brandeis has entered the national rankings after a sixth-place showing last year. After a runner-up performance last fall, Case Western looks to be the team to beat this time around.

Despite struggling in recent meets, second-year Liz Lawton paced the Maroons at the outset of the season and should be gunning for a spot on the All–UAA team in Atlanta after a 15th place finish last season. Also at the front of the pack for the South Siders will be fourth-year Rachel Venezia, who has led Chicago in each of its last two meets and placed 15th out of more than 300 runners at the Maroons’ last competition.

A high finish this season would be a dramatic turnaround for the men, whose lack of depth led to a last-place result in 2007 despite an All–UAA first team performance by then-fourth-year Ryan McCarl. To accomplish the feat, the Maroons will have to power past the current front runner, Case, and the defending champions, NYU.

Pacing Chicago this fall have been fourth-year Chris Peverada and second-year Arthur Baptist. While Peverada didn’t compete at last year’s championship, Baptist returns after a 52nd place finish that was fifth for the Maroons.

With nearly full rosters at their disposal, Hall and the Maroons have ambitious but guarded hopes for the weekend.

“It’s difficult to set specific goals because we have not seen any of these teams compete, and you just can’t compare cross country courses,” Hall said. “I feel it would be a really successful weekend if our women place in the top three and the men finish in the top four.”