The South Siders travel to Oshkosh, WI, this weekend for a race that will make or break their season. The Maroons’ performance at the Midwest Regional will decide whether or not the squad will qualify for the DIII National Championship.
Traditionally, the top five teams from the Midwest region qualify for the national meet. Currently, the Maroons are ranked ninth in the area. Due to the high level of competition in the region, the South Siders will not have an easy path toward qualifying. In fact, the Midwest Region contains tough squads, including the defending national champions, North Central.
The teams expected to stand in Chicago’s way are Augustana, UW–Platteville, UW–Stevens Point, and Wheaton.
Wheaton and Augustana, both members of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), most recently placed second and third respectively in their conference championship. Platteville and Stevens Point, members of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), are coming off of a very tight third- and fourth-place finishes in their conference meet. UW–Lacrosse won the WIAC and is currently ranked third in the region.
The Maroons placed fourth in the UAA, with rival Wash U winning the conference and earning the #4 ranking in the region.
Thus, the Maroons will have to run one of the best races of the year if they wish to qualify.
“There is a lot of focusing going on right now,” second-year Renat Zalov said. “We’re just mentally preparing right now.”
The Maroons know that they will run in this race not as individuals but as a team; scores are tallied by adding together a team’s top five finishes out of seven runners. The lowest team score wins.
Fourth-year All-American Billy Whitmore will lead the pack as always, but where the next four Maroons finish will be the deciding factor for the team.
“My personal goal is to help my team get to the national meet. That will probably mean a top-25 finish,” Zalov said. “Isaac Dalke and I plan on running together, and the remaining four runners are planning on running in a pack.”
Strategically, the squad plans to get a good pace and feel for the field in the first three miles of the race while saving energy for the last two miles.
“Everyone on the squad needs to have a good race in order for us to advance,” Zalov said. “By good race, I mean a focused team effort where we run with our teammates and establish position through the third mile, and then eventually close it out over the last two miles of the race.”
If the Maroons stick to the plan and successfully place Dalke and Zalov in the top 25, they could be booking tickets for Terre Haute, IN, where the National Championship is set to take place a week from Saturday.