SPORTS

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October 13, 2006

Nation's best await cross country

This weekend, cross country faces an uphill battle, but for a team that’s still trying to find its groove, their opportunity to collectively kick it up a notch could be only a day away.

After the Loyola Invitational, Chris Hall, the head coach, said that men’s and women’s cross country would be “thrown to the wolves” at this weekend’s Oshkosh Invitational. When the team travels north for one of this season’s most highly charged non-Championship races, Hall should have relatively little fear. The Maroons used their two-week break from competition to sharpen their race strategies and rest up. Now, with their legs fresh and their minds focused, both squads are eager to put their best feet forward.

“The meet this weekend is incredibly competitive,” said fourth-year captain Dan Dickinson. “There will be four teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation, plus a few others in the top 35. Also, three other UAA teams will be there who we usually don’t compete against until the conference championships, so this is a great opportunity for us, and I think everyone is pretty excited about it.”

“We don’t normally get to see this type of competition unless it’s a championship meet. I don’t think anyone is scared of the competition,” fourth-year Chetan Huded said. “We’ll get a chance to go up against Stevens Point and Augustana who beat us a few weeks ago.”

On the men_s side, the hard-hitting opposition will start with the nation’s number one ranked team, Calvin College. Joining the Knights will be third-ranked UW_Oshkosh, seventh-ranked Haverford, not to mention conference rival, eighth-ranked NYU. Runners from Emory and Wash U will also make a showing at Oshkosh. The high level of competition could possibly provide the Maroons with a chance to push the men_s team past their personal bests and help them come together just in time to bust into midseason form for Conference championships on October 28.

“At this point most of our preparation is mental, just knowing we have to focus the entire time,” Dickinson said. “Even if you’re having an off day, losing one second can mean losing 10 places. Our strategy and goals for this meet are to run well as a team in our packs, rise to the occasion and level of competition, and establish ourselves as a great team.”

“Despite the high level of competition, our strategy won’t change. We still want to run together in packs and move well in the middle of the race,” Huded added. “I think everyone wants to perform well against the teams in our region as well as the other UAA teams that will be there. This meet is our chance to step up and show everyone that we have a legit shot at going back to nationals.”

Similar sentiments abound among the men’s counterparts on the women’s end. The women’s squad will go up against a smaller, though equally terrifying, group of Division III programs from far and wide. Battling with pesky Wash U, currently sitting pretty on the number three spot in the nation, and Emory, ranked twenty-first in the country, the women should get a good preview of what their next race could bring. More importantly, they have a chance to rise up against these top runners and execute a little pre-UAAs domination of their own.

“The meet this weekend is going to be wonderful,” third-year Dilshanie Perera said. “The competition is some of the best in DIII, and we’ll be meeting a few of the teams from outside our conference there too.”

Although a slew of formidable foes will most likely prevent the Maroons from nabbing top team spots at Oshkosh, the men and women are looking forward to a day of quality competition and top-notch opponents that can push them to reach their potential. Both teams have shown flashes of the type of runners they can become and Saturday offers one more chance to try to pull everything together in their high-powered, high-performance packs.

“In general, the strategy is to form packs early on in the race and race together the way we’ve been running workouts throughout the season,” Perera said. “This is the perfect autumn race - the leaves on trees are transmuted to gold, a chill breeze is in the air, the excitement among teammates is extremely contagious - in short, this is where cross country becomes a work of art.”