October 14, 2011

UW-Oshkosh Invite hosts top D-III teams

More than 50 teams will converge at Lake Breeze Golf Club in Winneconne, Wisconsin this Saturday for the UW–Oshkosh Invitational, one of the last big invitationals before conference races begin in two weeks. If Lake Breeze sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s the home of this year’s D-III National Championship, in which cross country teams from across the country will compete for the ultimate prize of an NCAA crown.

The 18th-ranked men’s cross country team is coming off a sixth-place finish at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational on October 1, while the 32nd-ranked women’s team is fresh off an 11th-place finish.

Chicago is one of four UAA teams in each race, along with Wash U, NYU, and Emory. They face stiff competition. On the men’s side, the Maroons are the eighth-ranked team in the field, behind the likes of top-ranked North Central (Ill.), Wash U, MIT, and UW–Oshkosh, while on the women’s side, the Maroons are ranked 10th in the field, behind schools like Wash U, MIT, Calvin, Carleton, and St. Olaf.

“I am very excited. I love high levels of competition,” said Billy Whitmore, a third-year who finished seventh in the men’s field at Loyola. “I see them as an opportunity to exceed expectations.”

Head Coach Chris Hall anticipates a good performance from both teams.

“We want to be a national team. And I think this weekend we’ll get an idea of whether or not we can do that,” Hall said. “So I’m expecting our kids to perform at a pretty high level.”

According to Rachel Ohman, a fourth-year who was the top finisher for the women’s team at Loyola, the race’s atmosphere promotes a more assertive style.

“I feel a little more aggressive, and sharper, and a little more focused. For very small, not-as-competitive races, you don’t really ‘get yourself up’ emotionally as much as you do for a bigger race,” Ohman said. “And this is a race for which I will be pumping myself up a lot, and I have been this week.”

Dan Povitsky, a second-year who finished 56th in the men’s field two weeks ago, expressed a similar idea.

“This is basically a pre-national meet,” Povitsky said, “so it’s OK to invest a lot of emotion into this race and really get up for it, get excited for it.”

Coming off slightly disappointing performances at Loyola, the teams are motivated to perform strongly at this weekend’s race.

“I wasn’t thrilled with my performance at Loyola. I was much happier with my performance at Illinois Intercollegiates when I finished 10th there,” Ohman said. “Because I didn’t race quite as aggressively at Loyola as I would have liked to, I’m feeling that much more excited and aggressive for Saturday’s race.”

A more well-rested team, according to Povitsky, should lead to better results this weekend.

“Between October and September, we have a phase of some of our most strenuous workouts. So when we have Loyola, a lot of us don’t perform as well because we tend to be tired,” Povitsky said. “And so, as the phase of strenuous workouts ends, and now we’re tapering down a little bit, we’re more prepared for Oshkosh.”

Whitmore, who ran the 8K in a time of 24:59 in his last race, articulated the team’s mindset going into Saturday’s race.

“We have to adapt a mentality that reflects both confidence and competitiveness,” the third-year said. “I hope our team is eager to prove [its] place amongst some of the elite teams in D-III.”

Povitsky said, “If we want to move on to the NCAAs, we need to be a team that can finish around the top 10 in the nation.”

Saturday’s large fields feature 11 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams ranked in the top 35 in the country, including Chicago’s top UAA rivals, NYU and Wash U. The men’s and women’s races should be competitive and compelling.

According to Ohman, a successful performance will enhance the team’s attitude heading into the national meets.

“I think the race at Oshkosh is definitely related to the races later in the season. It’s kind of a transition race, from the first part of the season to the championships,” Ohman said. “And I think that if we do well on Saturday, it will carry us into the championship season with a lot more confidence.”

The women’s 6,000-meter race will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with the men’s 8,000-meter race following shortly thereafter at 11:15 a.m.