After stumbling in their last meet, men’s and women’s cross country enter this weekend with an eye to get back in full stride as the midpoint of the season approaches.
Both teams are looking to rebound at the Wisconsin–Parkside Invitational from disappointing finishes in their most recent meet, the Loyola Lakefront Invitational, at which the men finished 13th out of 21 teams and the women 16th out of 19. Despite the strong performances of fourth-years Hannah Moots (43/19:10) and Ryan McCarl (44/25:59), who had the fastest times for the Maroons, only three men and two women placed in the top 100 in each race.
Last Saturday’s results came as a bit of a surprise after the teams left their competition in the dust in their first few outings. At the Earlybird and Forester Invitationals, the men finished first in both meets and the women finished second and fourth. While the Loyola results were disappointing, the team credits the recent slump more to a lack of experience than to an absence of skill or potential on the roster.
“We have a young team that is still learning how to win in this kind of environment,” head coach Chris Hall said. “This is a very talented group of runners; we just need to work on our mental preparation a bit.”
Their mental preparation will certainly be tested as the teams face much more challenging competition this weekend. Several of their opponents are nationally ranked, and most teams are from the NAIA, which the Maroons have not yet faced this fall.
Some of the strongest opponents the team will toe the line with include Aquinas College and Wisconsin–Parkside. Aquinas, an NAIA team, is ranked second on the men’s side and 14th on the women’s. Wisconsin–Parkside sneaks into the top 10 in DIII, with its men ranked ninth and its women boasting an eighth-place ranking competing in DII.
Another hurdle the team will have to overcome at this weekend’s meet is the adjustment to a different kind of course. A number of hills and the variety of terrain have the potential to trip up some runners.
“Our times on Saturday will probably go up a bit, but the important aspect is to keep up with the other teams. It will be a great mental test for our runners,” Hall said. “Hopefully we can finish in the top two [in the men’s race] and the top three [in the women’s].”
This meet will give the team one last chance to work out the kinks before the UAA Championships on October 27. To prepare for this challenge and leave enough gas in the tank for when it really counts, the team has been changing its training routine slightly, with some runners dropping mileage.
“We’ve already been through the most challenging part of training this season. Now, instead of practices being the hardest workouts, we want meets to be the most tiring,” Hall said.
More than any physical strain, this weekend will be a true test of the team’s ability to harness their potential and compete with other talented runners. A strong finish on Saturday would give the Maroons a shot of confidence to take with them into the UAA Championships.