September 30, 2011

Chicago poised to take on top-tier talent at Loyola Invite

This weekend marks another big step in Chicago’s goal to take over the national scene. Going into this weekend's Loyola Invitational, the men’s cross country team is ranked 17th nationally, while the women’s team is ranked 34th. Although there is some top-tier competition at the meet this weekend, a strong performance won't necessarily result in a move up the national rankings, as all of the teams from DIII are ranked behind the Maroons.

“While we appreciate the national attention, we feel we are underrated nationally,” fourth-year Brian Schlick said. “A great aspect about cross country is that rankings do not really matter—the only thing that matters is what you bring come race day.”

Likewise, the women’s team feels as though their current ranking isn’t representative of who they are as a team.

“Right now we’re ranked 34th in the country, and it is definitely an understatement of our potential,” fourth-year Sonia Khan said. “We have a great team this year, and it is going to be fun to surprise people as we move on to some of our more competitive races.”

One place for both teams to surprise people is this weekend at the Loyola Invitational. The running field will consist of hundreds of runners from several different schools, including DI, DII, and DIII institutions.

“I'm very excited for our race this weekend,” fourth-year Rachel Ohman said. “It provides us with a valuable opportunity to practice running against great competition.”

Third-year Bill Whitmore said, “With roughly 300 runners, this meet provides us with a good opportunity to stack-up against some great teams from DI, DII, and DIII that we don't often race.”

With the large field sizes this weekend, it'll be even more important for the Maroons to run in their training groups. In larger meets, smaller gaps between the fourth and fifth runner make for significant differences in points.

“[We have been working on] running together so we have a group to rely on during races,” Schlick said about the men’s squad. Likewise, the women's team has been working to run as a tight unit.

“We have been working on racing in packs and tightening the gap between our first and fifth scoring runners,” Ohman said.

The Loyola Invitational is also the last meet before one of Chicago's biggest meets of the year, the Oshkosh Invite. Head coach Chris Hall uses performances from the Loyola Invitational to determine the team that will travel to the upcoming post-season meets.

“We will narrow our varsity roster down to 10 people after this race for the Oshkosh Invite in two weeks. There we will see the best teams in the country during what will likely be the pre-National meet,” Whitmore said.

Schlick also sees important implications from this meet’s success. “The main thing riding on this week is momentum. It would be nice to have more success this weekend that will carry on to Oshkosh in two weeks.”
 Learning the intricacies of the course this weekend is critical to the teams' UAA success.

“Loyola’s course is where our UAA Conference will be held this year, so Saturday is a great opportunity for us to get a good feel for the course,” Khan said.

“The race will help our coach start to determine the members of our UAA conference championship squad,” Ohman said.

The Loyola Invitational will take place this Saturday at Montrose Harbor. If the success both teams have been having this season is any indication, both teams are more than ready to run against some of the fiercest competition they will see all year.