September 30, 2005

Men's cross country stocking up miles, milestones

This fall, men's cross country hopes to make history. Again.

The team has already entered the record books, recording the program's best NCAA ranking ever when they earned the eighth spot in last week's poll. Last year's squad had set the previous mark, rising as high as ninth on the year

"Rankings are fun, and that's all they are," head coach Chris Hall said. "We've got a pretty good group this year, and we could accomplish some pretty high goals, but there is plenty of work still to be done."

Though the Maroons slipped to 17th after a third-place finish at the Brisman-Lundeen Invite, they hope to duplicate another feat of last autumn: Setting a new record for best finish at the NCAAs.

"We're looking to qualify again. Our goal there is to be one of the top 10 teams in the country when all is said and done at the end of the season," Hall said.

Last year's team finished 16th at nationals after winning a second UAA title in three years and finishing third at the Midwest Regional meet. It was the first time the Maroons had qualified for the national meet since 1977.

With the exception of postgraduate star Jerome Tharaud, all of the top contributors from that team have returned and are leading the way for the Maroons. Third-year Emil Bojanov has been the team's top finisher in two of three meets, but his classmate Brian Hague, fourth-years Pat Hogan and Teage O'Connor, and second-year Ryan McCarl have been hot on his heels, overwhelming opponents.

This highly experienced group has been joined by first-year John Ascolese, who has done some damage early on for the team, finishing fifth in his first collegiate meet and holding down the fourth spot in the last two competitions.

"We've got a pretty deep team this year. We've got athletes who might be running as our ninth, 10th man right now who are capable of popping up into the top five or six," Hall said.

After winning two meets outright and a third-place finish, Chicago will face a challenging October schedule, starting with tomorrow's battle against a number of Division I squads at the Loyola Lakefront Invite. The team finishes the month with the UAA Championships in Pittsburgh October 29, where the Maroons hope to defend their conference championship against stiff competition. A 15th-ranked NYU squad will be looking to knock off the Maroons, and perennial power Wash U and Carnegie Mellon should also be contenders.

Spotlight on: The Pack

In a sport where the fifth man often proves more critical to his team's chances than the first, the Maroons' success may come down to sticking together. Despite a substantial level of individual talent, Chicago will be emphasizing a team-first concept, eschewing breakaways for a tight pack. In September action, the team's scoring runners were never separated by more than 51 seconds. On Friday, McCarl finished just 28 seconds behind Bojanov. The Maroons will look to slice the gap between their first and fifth finishers down to 20 seconds heading into the UAA and postseason meets. If they can do so with the quality of their roster, they will be extremely difficult to beat.