September 21, 2009

More experienced team targets smarter racing

Third-year Arthur Baptist arrived on campus two seasons ago bearing more pressure than a first-year should, filling the role as men’s cross country’s second-best runner that year. Now, Baptist finds himself leading the way for a team that may finally be coming of age.

While underclassmen have accounted for a large portion of Chicago’s points over the last two years, Baptist said that this year’s team has more depth and experience than either of the last two seasons.

“This is the first year where mostly juniors and seniors will be leading team, and I think it’s really important this year that we kind of come into our own,” Baptist said. “This year and next year are really our time to see if we’re a national caliber team.”

An all-UAA second team selection a season ago, Baptist heads up a team looking to build on last year’s sixth-place finish in conference. 2007 capped a three-year slide for Chicago, which fell from a UAA Championship in 2004 to second place in 2005, fifth place in 2006, and then last place two seasons ago. This year, the team has its sights set on a top-four finish, but to move into the upper tier of the conference, head coach Chris Hall said the team needs smarter races than in years prior.

“We have really shown a great deal of immaturity of people racing teammates instead of racing with teammates against other teams,” Hall said. “If we can [run together], we can be a pretty good team. But we cannot race our teammates; we have to race with them.”

The team is also hunting for its first bid to the national meet since 2005, but to pull that off, the Maroons will need to jump from ninth place to fifth in one of the country’s toughest regions.

“We’d love to pressure the top spots at both the UAAs and Regionals,” third-year Nick Nunez said. “I’m not going to say we want to win either, but we’d love to really get some of the top teams in those meets to realize that Chicago is embedded in the chase for top spots.”

Lost seniors include top performer Chris Peverada, who led the Maroons at six of his seven races last season. Fourth-years Alex Garbier and Adam Kaye will shoulder some of the upperclassmen load, but Chicago will also be counting on third-year Jim Mumford and second-years Moe Bahrani and Brian Wille for large contributions this season. While the squad doesn’t have any clearly elite runners, the Maroons will count on Hall’s philosophy of running as a team to perform well.

“I think that’s just the way our team works. We’re not a team that has one guy who’s an All-American, but we do have a lot of solid runners,” Baptist said. “That’s kind of what it takes to get a team to nationals.”

Bahrani, Baptist, and Garbier are all coming back from injuries suffered over the summer, although they expect to be at full health a few weeks into the season, giving the Maroons more than enough time to prepare for the season’s most important races: conference at the end of October and the Midwest Regional in mid-November.

“We’ll kind of be the class of the field in early season meets, so we’ll just kind of have to keep a level head and know that bigger meets at the end of the season is where we’ll see the bigger teams and more quality programs,” Baptist said. “The competition is more important and the competitors are better toward the end of the season.”