Third-year Liz Lawton had mixed feelings about qualifying for Nationals a season ago. On one hand, she had earned the right to compete with the division’s top runners. When she made the trip, though, she had to do it without her team.
When women’s cross country finished sixth at last year’s Midwest Regional, the team missed a bid to NCAAs by just 12 points, and the Midwest—the nation’s best region—usually sends five teams to the national meet.
With most of the team’s top runners returning, the Maroons are looking to close the gap and book group tickets for this fall’s Nationals in Ohio.
“We have a really strong team this year, and personally I think our team will make—knock on wood—Nationals as a team, and Coach [Chris] Hall thinks that we should shoot for the top 10 in the nation at the national meet,” Lawton said.
A strong proponent of team mentality on the course, Hall has his team running closer together this season with the idea that a team-centered strategy will mean team success down the road. While individual runners decide how the team places at each race, the Maroons are believers in the motivational power of collaboration.
“Running with a teammate allows for stronger finishes and a stronger race for the team as a whole if you have someone to run with who’s about the same talent level as you,” said Lawton, who recalled struggling at NCAAs last season with no team score to think about. “It motivates you throughout the race because it’s another Chicago uniform next to you.”
Ranked 22nd in the nation to start the season, the Maroons return with what Hall described as the “deepest” team he has coached at Chicago, and that level of talent brings higher expectations along with it.
“[Finishing sixth at Regionals] was really hard for us because we really wanted to make Nationals and we thought we had a really good chance of making it,” third-year Mollly Peverada said, “but if we had the mindset that we have this year, it would have been a lot more disappointing last year.”
Lawton and second-year Rachel Ohman will likely lead the way for the Maroons, although the team’s depth could mean different runners leading the way on different days.
That parity among runners could come in handy if 2009 is a repeat of 2008, when Chicago struggled with injuries and sickness for much of the season and never put all of its pieces together until late in the year.
“I personally believe we have the ability to lose two or three runners to injuries and not change our ultimate goals of placing well at the national level,” Hall said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of teams in country that could say that.”
But whether it means certain runners leading all season or first-years like Julia Sizek and Katie Reidy stepping up, the Maroons are determined to extend their season into late November.
“It would mean the world to Coach Hall and a world to the seniors, and making it to a meet like that is such a reward for all the hours in the gym and the training,” Lawton said.
Hall said that expectations could be huge for a young team with potentially strong years ahead of them.
“They’re very young, there’s so much youth there, there might not be a sense of urgency that we’re going to be great right now this year,” Hall said. “I just hope they don’t let it slip away.”