For XC, Midwest meet last chance to achieve goals

By Kathryn Stewart

Saturday could mark the beginning of the end for Chicago cross country. While the men’s team will most likely wrap up their season, the women may qualify to race again this fall.

After a dissatisfying showing at UAAs, where the women and men were relegated to the fourth and fifth spots, the Maroons are hoping to end on a high note. Running at Augustana College in Rock Island for the second time this year, the Maroons are primed for, at the very least, a day of superb racing and smart running. For the men, the goal is to finish ahead of their ninth-place seed.

While the ghosts of last year’s top five regional finish have haunted the men all season, the Maroons are hoping to shake that monkey off their backs and simply put in a good performance. Their counterparts on the women’s side are aiming a little higher and seeking to move on to nationals next weekend in Wilmington, Ohio. A team finish in the top five will guarantee the women’s squad a spot at the starting line next weekend. However, Chicago will have to advance several spots from their eighth-place seed in order to break into the championship circle.

On an individual level, Chicago will probably have at least one representative at the NCAAs. In order to advance, a runner must snag a spot in the top 20 on Saturday. Four fourth-years, Emil Bojanov, Brian Hague, Vidthya Abraham, and Dilshanie Perera, are all poised to make the cut and run at Wilmington with or without the rest of their squads. Joining this list of potential over-achievers is third-year Ryan McCarl, who is slated to take All-Regional Honors this weekend.

Although Abraham and Perera have a shot at running with the best of the best on their own, neither is concentrating on going to nationals alone. The women are particularly intent on advancing as a team.

“I actually hadn’t thought about anyone from the women’s team qualifying individually,” head coach Chris Hall admitted. “Vidthya and Dil certainly have the ability to. But, I don’t think Dil or Vidthya are even thinking of regionals as an opportunity to qualify for the national meet on an individual basis. Their mindset is more ‘what do I have to do to make sure everyone runs hard and finishes well to place in the top five’ rather than ‘what do I have to do to make it to NCAAs by myself.’”

Hall is convinced pollsters have underestimated the Maroons’ prowess, and although they’ve been seeded eighth, he believes their true position is closer to fifth or better. Likewise, the women’s team is primed and ready to show regional officials just how erroneous their initial ranking is.

“People haven’t recognized how competitive they are, and they know it,” Hall explained. “I think it’s ridiculous we’re ranked number eight when we’ve beaten some of the top 16 teams in the country. They have a legitimate chance to qualify and they really want this. I think they’re ready, and I think that Saturday will, if anything, be a neat test of their abilities.”

As for strategy, the women intend to keep doing what they’ve been doing all season in practice and competition.

“The goal, as always, is to have fun,” captain Dilshanie Perera said. “To have the best of times. The course is flat and fast, a racetrack of sorts. We don’t need luck, only a certain excitement and the connection of hearts and minds, which is already present and extends beyond seven or 14 runners to the entire team.”

On the men’s side, four months of quality training and individual achievement that never seemed to gel in the heat of competition has led the Maroons to scale back their team objectives. Improving on last year’s historical performance isn’t in the cards, and qualifying for the national meet isn’t likely either. But the men aren’t without ambition; they’re hoping, at the very least, to chase down the eighth spot.

“We’re ninth going in, but we have no reason to be complacent,” Hall explained. “A shot at nationals isn’t really realistic. Anything can happen, I think we could probably beat the number four team and the number eight team, I just don’t think we could do that all on the same day. On Saturday we’re going to run for pride, personal records, and, to a certain extent, for next year.”

Although the men never had their “great race” during the 2006 cross-country term, each Maroon running at regionals can claim to have made solid, individual progress over the course of the season. From start to finish, the men plan on running hard and sticking to the strategy they’ve worked on all season. The exhilaration of the last race of the season could carry them across the finish a place or two ahead of their pre-race ranking.

“I think our team is really excited for the meet,” captain Chetan Huded said. “If we run well we can finish in the top eight, which is a solid achievement in our region. I don’t think that we can simply go out and try to run over our ability level because then we won’t be running our race. We have to focus on running our best possible race and fighting for every position the whole way. Hopefully some teams will come back to us.”

“We’re well rested and have put in all the hard work so we’re in good shape,” captain Dan Dickinson said. “I don’t really think there are any teams specifically we’re trying to beat, though if anyone, it’s Wash U. They beat us at conference this year, but we match up pretty well against them. Our strategy going into the race is simply to try and run the type of race we always try to—as a team in our packs, moving well in the middle—then hopefully we can close out the race well over the last couple kilometers.”

With the men aiming to finish off their season in style and send a few from their ranks to NCAAs, and the women competing for the chance to go up against the top DIII teams in the nation next weekend, Saturday should provide plenty of excitement. If all goes well, a contingent of Maroons may toe the line at nationals yet again.