Regionals give XC one last chance

By Kathryn Stewart

Chicago’s 2007 cross-country campaign will come to a close this weekend at the Midwest Regional Meet in Oshkosh, WI. The Maroons are hoping to end on a high note after starting their season strong but gradually fizzling out with a string of off days and lackluster team finishes.

Following a mediocre showing at Conferences two weeks ago, the men’s and women’s cross-country squads are faced with one last chance to pull off their first perfect race of the fall term. Hopefully, a little less pressure, more rest, and a touch of confidence will serve up the kind of performance both teams have been working toward. With every athlete running shoulder-to-shoulder in top form, the U of C could finish near the top.

“Most of us feel pretty fresh and well rested at this point,” third-year Chris Peverada said. “Workouts have really dropped a lot of intensity, and those of us doing higher-mileage training have cut down a bit. None of us should be feeling that tired going into the race. Traditionally we have peaked well at the end of the season, so knowing this can give us confidence and hopefully help us to continue the tradition. The only thing that should be causing any nervousness is our conference performance, but we are two weeks further on with our training now, so I feel like that’s not a huge worry anymore.”

Some individual performances to watch include men’s frontrunner fourth-year Ryan McCarl, who is angling for the opportunity to represent Chicago at NCAAs. Also, his classmate and counterpart in the women’s lineup, Hannah Moots, is likely to repeat her excellent effort at UAAs, garnering All-Regional Honors in the process.

Switching to a team perspective, coaches and athletes are aiming for top-10 finishes all around. Once again, the only things standing between the Maroons and their goal are youth and inexperience. As both groups have struggled to hang together in the heat of competition, team leaders intend to fix this single kink at the fall’s final event.

“I think setting goals for ourselves as a team and individuals can do a lot to help our racing mentality,” Peverada said. “But, we have to remember not to get discouraged mid-race if we’re not exactly where we wanted to be.”

Although Chicago runners have traditionally pulled out all the stops for the last big push, a dearth of old hands is making this year’s cohort of novices nervous. With a roster oriented toward the lower years, an unfamiliar course and heightened intensity could prove to be too jarring.

“On the men’s team, we only have one person who has ever run at a regional meet,” head coach Chris Hall explained. “On the women’s side we have a few more, but both teams are very young. Youth has kind of been the theme for the season.”

According to Hall, the mark of a veteran competitor is consistency across days, weeks, meets, and campaigns. The cross-country program’s growing pains have manifested themselves in Chicago’s hit-or-miss record and in each squad’s persistent inability to generate a highly strategized, tightly packed team finish.

“Our experienced athletes do well from beginning to end,” Hall said. “They know when to turn things on and when to not turn things on. Our younger runners, on the other hand, have been experimenting. They’ll try one thing this week, something different at next week’s meet, and so on. As a result, sometimes things just fall into place and our talent shows. Other times, it’s our inexperience that people see.”

Despite the lack of big wins and flawless races, Hall is confident that the newbies will produce astounding results in the very near future. Fans can take comfort in the knowledge that the tried and true remedy for the type of sickness ailing the current crop of rookies is right around the corner.

“Our younger runners need to hear splits and run against the clock,” Hall said. “At the moment, we are in desperate need of a track season.”

If everything goes as planned for Hall and Co., the squads could kill two birds with one stone on Saturday. An impressive effort at Oshkosh would end the 2007 men’s and women’s cross-country teams’ tenure with a bang, while also setting a heartening precedent for the 2008 indoor track and field season.