While the season ended for women’s cross country last weekend, two runners are still pounding the pavement for a chance at individual glory.
Receiving at-large bids to the NCAA championship after their respective 13th- and 16th-place finishes at last weekend’s Midwest Regional, fourth-year Rachel Venezia and second-year Liz Lawton will be in Hanover, IN today, preparing for tomorrow’s six-kilometer race at Hanover College.
Chicago’s national duo features a seasoned veteran and an NCAA rookie. Venezia returns to the cross-country championships after competing with the entire Maroon squad as a second-year, when the team took 19th. The fourth-year also has two outdoor track and field appearances under her belt, finishing 15th in 2007 and just missing All-American status with an eighth-place showing last spring. Lawton, meanwhile, is advancing past the regional level for the first time.
“I think she knows what this level of competition is all about,” head coach Chris Hall said of Venezia. “The main way it’s prepared her is that she’s not in for any surprises this weekend. I think she knows what to expect.”
Echoing Hall’s sentiments, Venezia feels ready to rise to the challenge.
“Having made it before, I’m not very nervous,” Venezia said. “I know that the top girls are in my league; it’s just a question of whether I will have the mental stamina to stay with them, especially without the responsibility of leading a team.”
Both Venezia and Lawton head into Saturday hoping to break into the top 35 in order to become All-Americans. While failure to qualify as a team was a disappointment for the Maroons, competing individually may give Venezia and Lawton an advantage in their quest. Without a team finish to worry about, the runners can push themselves to their limits without fear of letting their squad down if they burn out too early.
“When you go there with the team, that has to be the number one priority, and then secondly, you try to chase those individual aspirations,” Hall said. “As individuals, I think it’s fair for them to roll the dice. If they’re having that great day, I think it could potentially happen.”
Lawton has a strategy to maneuver herself towards the front of the pack but realizes the goal will take the race of her life to accomplish.
“Personally, I’m going to go out at a smart pace and then try to pick people off as the race goes on. We’re both planning to shoot for All-American and if we have a race that’s out of this world, then hopefully we’ll be in one of those top 35 positions.”
In a crowded and competitive 280-runner field, breaking into the top 35 will prove difficult for either Chicago athlete.
“I think it’s a bit of a long shot,” Hall said. “They have to run better than
what they have this year to be All-Americans. I would not go into this weekend thinking that’s something that’s not attainable.”
For a pair of close friends that have trained together since last spring with the goal of qualifying for Nationals, Saturday will be a fulfilling experience free from many of the pressures the runners have dealt with all year. Without expectations of an All-American finish and without the pressure of competing for a team, Venezia and Lawton have taken a relaxed approach to the weekend.
“We have one workout this week and then we just do five or so miles every other day to stay fresh,” Lawton said. “We are just getting excited and thinking about how to approach this race and maybe be All-Americans.
“Our season is pretty much behind us now and this is the icing on the cake,” Hall added.