End of the road for cross country, but McCarl looks to NCAAs

By Kathryn Stewart

Concluding a campaign filled with more missed marks than either squad would prefer, men’s and women’s cross country wrapped up the 2007 season this weekend at Midwest Regionals in Oshkosh, WI. While the men placed 12th with an admirable spread of personal performances, individual slips and trips accumulated for the women’s team, leaving them in the 14th spot, just shy of their goal.

After struggling to hit their stride over the past three months, the Maroons are content to close the book and look ahead to track and field. But before they can do that, Chicago runners will have to cheer on fourth-year Ryan McCarl, who will head to Northfield, Minnesota for the NCAA Cross-Country Championship this coming weekend.

McCarl, who led the men’s contingent, broke the tape in 24:33 to take seventh place and the chance to race at NCAAs, garnering All-Regional Honors and setting a new program record in the process. First-year Arthur Baptist (57/25:36) was the next Maroon to across the line, followed by third-year Chris Peverada (80/25:59). Second-year Alex Garbier came home in 26:25 for the 96th position in a field 258 with the freshmen duo of Nick Nunez (98/26:26) and Andrew Wells-Qu (102/26:30) hot on his heels. Rounding out the seven-member lineup, second-year Adam Kaye finished 114th in 26:47. Although the men just barely missed their predicted placement in the top 10, coaches and athletes alike still consider Saturday’s race the bang with which the men’s squad had been hoping to end an otherwise desultory year.

“It would have been nice to place higher as a team, but I think nobody had a bad race individually, and a few had great ones,” Peverada said. “Obviously Ryan, but Andrew also really stepped up from where he has been all year.”

“This was probably the best race all year,” head coach Chris Hall said. “From the first runner to the last and from start to finish. Everyone ran well. Point-wise, we were just about where we wanted to be. In fact, when I was watching everyone finish, I thought we had placed in the top 10. There were just some really great teams racing this weekend.”

After a strong showing at UAAs, the women stumbled as a team Saturday, but first-year Liz Lawton soared. The rookie clocked a 22:28 6K, placing 28th, All-Region Honors and clinching program records for the fastest and highest-ranking freshman performance at regionals.

“Liz really pulled it off this weekend,” Hall said. “She stuck her nose right into the middle of the competition and it paid off.”

Fourth-year Hannah Moots (56/23:14) rolled into the squad’s number-two spot followed by a sophomore quartet of Laura Eberly (108/24:01), Catherine Stolar (124/24:21), Mara Goodman (129/24:25) and Hannah Otalora-Fadn (141/24:38). Finally, third-year Julia Moriarity (152/24:47) capped-off the Maroons’ effort in the women’s division.

Besides Lawton’s performance, the women’s team came away from their final meet less than satisfied. Once again, a young lineup faced with some of the region’s most formidable foes triggered strategic wobbles.

“We’ve never really felt we’ve had a full team effort on the women’s side,” Hall said. “We’re trying to live up to what we were a year ago, but then we haven’t been able to push through and that’s what happened this weekend: We went out to be in the top ten from the beginning, but during the second half of the race, that came back to haunt some people.”

Hall’s prescription for youth and inexperience: hitting the track. Six months of running around an oval should transform the inexperienced and tentative groups that dominate both squads into ruthlessly capable machines.

“Our runners need to hear splits and race against the clock,” Hall explained.

While the Maroons rest up for the beginning of the indoor track season, McCarl will be pounding the pavement in preparation for his showing at Nationals. McCarl is no stranger to going head-to-head with the best, having been a member of the 2005 men’s NCAA qualifying squad that ended its campaign ranked 9th in the nation. This time around, his objectives are completely individual.

“Ryan has been running as well as anyone here ever was,” Hall said. “At NCAAs there are about 80 guys who are capable of making All-American, but only 35 become All-American. He told me at the beginning of the season that being an All-American was his goal and I have a lot of confidence in him. I think Ryan could do it and he’s in the position to roll the dice and try to finish as high as he can.”

In the days leading up to regionals, both cross-country contingents were hoping to end their fall term gracefully while boosting confidence in anticipation of the upcoming track season. With an NCAA qualification for the men and a confirmed freshman phenom for the women, Chicago’s runners should be able to stride into winter with a definite spring in their step.