Blending experience with focus, speed with stamina, and steady concentration with a well timed burst of endorphins, men’s and women’s cross country head into tomorrow’s conference meet with high expectations. To have any success, though, the Maroons will need to throw off the monkey that’s been riding on their backs since the beginning of the season.
With weeks of soul-crushing workouts over and done with, the Maroons can focus on staying sharp for the season’s three biggest meets. Tomorrow in St. Louis will mark the beginning of the Championship season for cross country. Both squads are primed and ready for some serious competition, and Saturday will see nerves abounding. The men are in the toughest spot, having failed to match the prowess they’ve shown in practice to their performances at meets. While the women rose to the challenge at Oshkosh two weeks ago, going into Conferences having run only one really good race can trip up even the most experienced runner.
“It’s the Championship season, and Conferences is a race we train for,” head coach Chris Hall said. “Our runners are definitely physically and mentally ready. So far, our women have risen to the level of competition at a meet and had a great race. Our men haven’t responded yet. All of our guys have all had great races, just never all on the same day. But they’re all healthy, and they’re all in great shape. We have no excuses.”
With both squads currently fourth in the UAA standings, Saturday will be the only opportunity to match or improve upon last season’s second place overall for the men and number three spot for the women. With third-ranked NYU looking like a sure thing for first place on the men’s side, the Maroons are hoping to tackle second and third place Carnegie Mellon and Wash U. Finishing behind the Bears at Oshkosh may have given the men the push forward they will need to succeed tomorrow.
“Losing to Wash U was a bit of a wake-up call,” Hall said. “Not that they’re not a good team, they’re very good, and we respect them a lot. But, if they’re having a good day and we’re having a good day, it’s a close race. Oshkosh wasn’t a close race. Finishing behind them forced us to ask ourselves, ‘Are they really better than us?’”
For the women, Wash U, Emory, and Carnegie will ensure that even moving up one spot will be a ranking well earned. Having toed the line already with Emory and Wash U at Oshkosh, the Maroons have an idea of how hot it could get on the course tomorrow, but no one’s placing any bets just yet.
“It’s really hard to recognize competition in this field,” Hall explained. “For one thing, we never get to compete against these teams. Plus, with cross country, all the courses are different and that really effects how well we can predict who will run well. We’re aiming for second place on both sides. That means the men will have to really rise to the level of competition and the women will have to beat two very, very good teams.”
While the Maroons aren’t yet in the position to roll into St. Louis with the swagger accorded to a team expecting a top finish, they intend to bring some scorching intensity to the contest. Both the men’s and women’s team know all that stands between them and an excellent repeat of last year is a little extra concentration.
“We’re not going to change anything for this weekend,” fourth-year captain Chetan Huded said. “Everyone knows that this is a big meet and that we have to bring more focus than we’ve shown in the past few meets. The guys understand what we have to do; it’s simply a matter of executing a good race plan.”
Even with all the trepidation and pressure that any championship race brings, the Maroons aren’t about to forget that extra boost of excitement at the end of the season.
“Conference is always a festive time of the season,” fourth-year captain Dilshanie Perera said. “Our training has begun to taper, and the team is looking invigorated and ready to compete.”