Long road lies ahead for cross country

By Kathryn Stewart

New blood can bolster both the spirits and scores of a team under pressure, but daunting competition demands a seasoned mind. A lack of experience combined with particularly robust opposition hobbled men’s and women’s cross-country Saturday.

Coming off a strong opening to the 2007 cross country campaign, the Maroons journeyed to the North Side for Loyola University’s 35th Annual Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational, where they faced some of the fiercest foes in the Midwest. Both squads vied with DI and DII teams in the meet’s Gold Division, and when the dust settled, the men’s side was left standing 13th while the women collectively came home 16th.

“We were hoping to end up a little higher than we did as a team,” fourth-year Ryan McCarl said. “We had a few runners, especially [second-year] Alex Garbier, who turned in outstanding performances, but on the whole, we weren’t satisfied with the team results.”

“We showed our youth on Saturday,” head coach Chris Hall said. “In the Gold Division, we’re up against scholarship athletes, and competition is much stronger. I think some people just didn’t know how to respond to this kind of race environment.”

With experience on their side, the veterans pulled in the day’s best performances. Fourth-year Hannah Moots (43/19:10) and McCarl (44/25:59) led their respective squads across the finish line.

Third-years Jon Ascolese (57/26:11) and Julia Moriarty (78/19:44) were the men’s and women’s number twos. Although age and familiarity seemed to be the deciding factors of the day, two underclassmen, second-year Arthur Baptist (92/26:40) and first-year Erin Cary (102/20:06) made their presence known by rounding out Chicago’s top three.

“We didn’t have any sustainability issues,” Hall explained. “No one faded away because they started out too hard and couldn’t maintain their pace until the end. In a lot of cases, individual athletes just became too uncomfortable with the level of competitiveness, stumbled mentally, and as a result, couldn’t close the door.”

“Several things happened around the start that got into the heads of our runners. Our pack was separated by the crowd, and one of our runners had his foot stepped on and injured, for example,” McCarl said. “Nothing is ever going to go perfectly, and in the future, we’ll be better about making mental adjustments to those sorts of conditions.”

No one intends to lose sleep over the weekend’s less-than-stellar performance. As one of the most intense meets outside of the championship portion of the season, Loyola acts as an opportunity for athletes and coaches to build a strategy for Regionals, where the foes are just as formidable and the stakes are much higher.

“I’m interested to see how they’ll react to this kind of competition next time,” Hall said. “An athlete who doesn’t have a certain level of mental toughness could easily lose confidence and fail to recover. Our runners have the mental toughness to handle this [pressure] and use it in a positive way.”

Chicago is hoping for a well timed boost coming into the homestretch of 2007. With championships on the horizon, the lessons learned at Loyola will be reinforced in two weeks when the Maroons travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to test their improved strategy against a field dominated by unfamiliar NAIA teams at the Wisconsin–Parkside Invitational.