Highlighted by an all-region performance, men’s cross country closed its season this weekend a bit short of its goals but still keeping an eye on raising the standard for next year.
Paced by fourth-year Chris Peverada, Chicago took home a ninth-place finish in a field of 39 teams at the Midwest Regional Championship hosted by Augustana College Saturday. Peverada’s time of 25:36 on the eight-kilometer course was good for 33rd place out of 280 runners.
Coming into the meet, the Maroons were looking at their last chance to achieve an outside hope from the start of the season: to be NCAA qualifiers. The main focus of this fall, however, has been moving pieces into place for next year, and the showing this weekend confirmed the team’s progress in 2008 while underscoring its strengths to tap into for 2009.
“I think our team did run well this season,” head coach Chris Hall said.
Once at Augustana, the South Siders found themselves on a different course than the one they’re used to at Rock Island, IL. Flooding forced the hosts to switch the site to a golf course.
“I’d liken it to running on a grass track,” Peverada said of the new terrain. “I personally prefer the hillier courses because there’s more thinking to them. On courses like this you can brainlessly go out and run the same pace the whole way.”
Peverada has been at the front of the pack for the Maroons all season, clocking the team’s top finish in Chicago’s last three meets and in five of the squad’s seven races this fall. Saturday’s race was his second fastest of the year and earned him a spot among the best in the region for 2008 with an All-Midwest designation.
For the Hampden, ME, native, rising to the position of team leader with regional recognition was no minor task. Peverada’s four years of training and competing in the maroon and white has been more of a transformation than a natural progression from rookie talent to veteran power.
“He has absolutely built himself to be a great collegiate runner,” Hall said, adding that teammates voted Peverada most improved in both his sophomore and junior years. “Who does that? Who’s voted most improved and then improves at that same rate the next year?”
In 2008 alone, Peverada dropped his time on the eight-kilometer course from a 26:33 at the Multi-Division Meet September 19 to a season-low of 24:57 by the UW–Oshkosh Invite October 18.
Keeping astride of Peverada at Augustana was second-year Arthur Baptist, who crossed the line in 26:04, taking 51st place and the Maroons’ next best finish. They both trailed Wheaton fourth-year Brandon Mull, who took top honors for the event after posting a time of 24:33.
With the help of Mull, Wheaton ranked seventh at the event—the spot that the Maroons had hoped to take before sending their seven athletes to the race. But Chicago went into the meet making a trade-off between gunning for a higher regional finish and giving individuals a shot at NCAAs.
“They went after it,” said Hall of the Maroons taking a crack at Nationals, noting in particular second-year Jim Mumford, fourth-year David Yu, and third-year Alex Garbier. “We had some kids who really performed well.”
“The cheering section that drove down from Chicago really helped during the race,” Peverada added.
North Central College won the meet with three runners among the first 10 to cross the line and clinched an automatic bid to NCAAs in Hanover, IN, this Saturday. Second-place UW–La Crosse captured the other automatic qualification.
Chicago may be missing out on NCAAs, but the Maroons have seen their share of nationally competitive teams this season. Five schools from the UAA will be represented at Hanover, with three of them securing automatic bids. All three of the squads contending for an at-large spot after the Midwest Regional made the final cut.
“In our region, you have to be a player in the national meet in order to be in the national meet,” Hall said. “You talk about being a top-five team in the region to make nationals, but we’re really talking about a top-10 in the nation.”
This is the third year that the Maroons haven’t been able to extend their season into NCAA competition. The South Siders made back-to-back appearances on the national stage in 2004 and 2005, returning from the 2005 trip with a ninth-place finish.
Now, Chicago looks at the progress from this season and sees upcoming track-and-field training as preparing it to make another push for NCAAs in 2009. With a lot of upfront scoring power returning to the squad next fall, turning the corner from building up for Nationals and competing isn’t out of the question.