SPORTS

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October 9, 2001

Cross country hopeful to make nationals

With much attention being paid to the impressive starts of the U of C's soccer and football teams, respectively, another sport may have escaped notice. This season, the men's and women's cross country teams both threaten to set new high-water marks for the school. Each ranked 21st nationally within their respective halves of Division III; the two teams seek to win their conferences and appear at Nationals this November.

The men's team got off to a superb start by coming in second at the early bird meet at Elmhurst on September 1. Such positive results put the runners in good position, and they have made good on that position with some impressive feats. New coach Chris Hall cited the performances of Tom Haxton (25:09 over the standard 8 kilometer/4.96 mile course) and Patrick Sullivan (25:27) as individual feats indicative of the men's team's overall success. He also noted that Haxton's time was at the top of the team's record books. Third-year runner and team Captain Peter Bugg, who is responsible for acquiring the American Flag shorts which the team wears on its practice runs, was quick to echo Hall's praises, and stressed the importance of the team's chemistry.

“Winning this year will depend on synergy and on not looking back," said Bugg, apparently aware of his running-related metaphor. He pointed to several occasions in which the team finished well but could have finished even better with the presence of various team members unable to compete. At the Augustana meet on September 28, for instance, the team fared even better than expected.

“We went off the heezy," explained Bugg. “We beat out a number of teams with higher ranks." The team finished sixth, but Bugg and his teammates agreed that they could have finished as high as third if some of their injured brethren had been able to participate. Third-year Paddy White was among those corroborating the importance of the team effort, and used the only outstanding mishap of the year to date as his evidence.

At the North Central meet on September 22, the race became complicated. Due perhaps to a signposting mishap, or perhaps to a collective lack of directional sense, some 40 runners from various competing schools took a wrong turn, and many of their times suffered as a result. It was not until Bugg, using his Eagle Scout training, reached this point in the course that the race was redirected to its original path. White, who was ahead of Bugg and missed the turn, felt sure that had the two been racing together his time would have improved. “Obviously we need to go the right way to win races," said White, “and with teamwork we can achieve that and more."

This upcoming weekend at La Crosse, the men's team has a chance to take a major step towards all their ambitions, which in addition to going the right way include becoming the first U of C men's team ever to qualify for Nationals, and sending the first individual runner to Nationals since 1981. “This meet will be extremely important because all of our conference rivals will be there," Bugg said.

Though the men have a chance to get to uncharted heights, the women's team is in good standing to repeat its successes of the past three years, when it has been perennially ranked. With the return of injured All-Americans Margaret Bradley and Wendy Sullivan finally coming together with the rise of new All-American hopeful Zoe Swenson, the women's team has an excellent chance of bringing home a conference title.

“The conference competition is tough," remarked Swenson, naming Washington University, Brandeis, and Emory as the most formidable rivals, “but our team is deeper than theirs. We probably have the strongest top seven we've had in a long time."

The top four teams in the Midwest region will go to Nationals, so beating out their conference rivals will prove critical for the women, who like to go running on campus in leopard-print shorts.

Like the men's team, the women have been bolstered by early season successes. They finished first at the Elmhurst meet, and at the Carthage Invitational they scored just 16 points, with 15 being the lowest (and best) possible score.

The upcoming La Crosse meet will be big for the women's team, though not as much so as for the boys. According to Swenson, the October 27 Conference meet and the ensuing Regionals and Nationals meets (two and three weeks later, respectively) will be the most important ones.

“Early in the season it's all physical exertion," Swenson said, “but towards the end we really turn it up mentally, and peak at Regionals and Nationals." She affirmed that the peak would be a sustained one, sort of like a tantric thing, but for running. It is at this late time in the season that the runners hope to really come together as a team.

Few team sports are as individualized as running, and the women's team agrees that cohesiveness often marks the superior teams. That attitude prevails in the locker room here. “Of course we are always competing for who comes in first," Swenson continued, “but that kind of competition involves pushing each other to do even better."

Similarly, the spirited conference rivalries with opposing teams spark superlative efforts. This will especially be the case, according to sources, against Wash U. “They have a great top three, but our team is deeper," said Swenson.

In competitions like this, the performances of runners like Darcy Flora will be pivotal. Flora has been making a bid to crack the team's top three, and this has motivated great performances from everyone.

The appearance of both teams are optimistic but fiercely competitive. With successes already under their belts, and challenges ahead, the U of C runners remain motivated. No matter how ridiculous their shorts may get, the teams will both be striving for their twin goals: winning the Conference, and getting to Nationals. They plan to end the season on a peak.