October 16, 2007

Despite individual efforts, cross country inconsistent as squad

Beautiful weather and a bucolic setting provided the background for cross country’s last chance to test itself before heading into the championship chunk of the 2007 season. But the distance-running gods only half-smiled as the Maroons pulled yet another mixed performance.

With conference meets only two weeks away, men’s and women’s cross country were aiming to score their first great race as a squad at the Wisconsin-Parkside Lucian Rosa Invitational on Saturday. Although excellent conditions worked in their favor, the shakiness that has plagued the Maroons’ campaign reared its ugly head yet again. When all was said and done, the men’s team came home sixth out of 17 teams while their counterparts on the women’s squad claimed fifth out of 14 teams.

“We’re still looking for our ‘complete race,’” head coach Chris Hall said. “Every week we have a group that runs really well and another group that ends up in the team’s top five, but still performs below expectations. On the positive side, though, we always have new people rising and showing that they can fill out these top roles, but what we want is a race where our top five all run their best races.”

Although bringing the big picture together remains the central challenge for either team, individual Maroons churned out several stellar performances on Saturday. Fourth-year Ryan McCarl (11/26:06) led the men’s team with third-year Chris Peverada in top form and right on his heels (16/26:11). Adding a dash of youth to the men’s top five, a trio of underclassmen, including first-year Nick Nunez (41/27:01), second-year Adam Kaye (45/27:10) and fellow freshman Andrew Wells-Qu (54/27:20), rounded out the men’s highest-finishing contingent.

“There are some things we need to work on…a big one being packing our scorers closer together,” third-year Chris Peverada explained. “Even if a couple guys race well up front, they still need everyone else to not be too far behind in order for the team to do well.”

On the women’s side, first-year Liz Lawton established herself as a newbie to be watched, crossing the line in 19:00 for eighth place. Fourth-year Hannah Moots served up a solid performance (14/19:19) with third-year Julia Moriarty filing in behind her (37/20:00). Finally, second-years Mara Goodman (40/20:03) and Laura Eberly (45/20:12) completed the women’s top quintet.

“The team didn’t feel much pressure going into the race since most of the teams we were competing against were Division II or NAIA schools,” fourth-year Hannah Moots explained. “We were looking at the meet as a final tune-up before coming head to head with the other schools in our conference.”

As the regular cross-country season shrinks in the rearview, the Maroons are focusing on the upcoming conference meet. Neither squad expects to win outright, but while the women are fairly confident that a fourth place finish is in their reach, the men will spend the next two weeks grappling with a healthy amount of uncertainty.

“I’m feeling good about conferences,” Hall said. “But, we’re keeping things in perspective. On the men’s side, NYU and Carnegie-Mellon have pulled ahead and will be competing for first and second place. After that, there are three or four teams that could place as high as third and as low as sixth and we’re one of those teams. It will all depend on who is having a good day and what kind day we’re having when the day of the race comes.”

“I don’t think we can expect to win conference,” Peverada said. “But, if we can pack in a few others close behind our top few, I think we should come away among the top teams at our next two meets.”

The coming weeks should witness the men strategizing while the women focus on staying race-sharp in order to fend off Brandeis University while chasing down the Emory Eagles. If everything goes according to plan, the Maroons should nab at least a fourth-place finish in the women’s division.

“On the women’s side, there is a very clear pecking order,” Hall said. “Wash U will probably win the meet, followed by Case Western Reserve, which is having a great year, then Emory and then Chicago. We only have to worry about other squads, Brandeis will be the closest, having a really great day and rising up a bit.”

“With the injuries our team has faced, we aren’t looking to win,” Moots said. “But we are certainly hoping to mix it up with some of the better schools in the conference. We’ve had several conference meets where Emory has snuck by us as we were focused on competing with other teams; if all goes well, we’ll be able to vie with them in two weeks.”

With the opportunities they’ve had to test themselves now behind them, both squads are focusing solely on the future and on October 27th will head to Boston, Massachusetts where, if all goes well, both the men and women will run a perfect race.