The Maroons are competing against 42 other colleges at Saturday’s NCAA Midwest Regional with a bid for the national championship race at stake. The winners of the men’s and women’s race automatically qualify, while the rest of the teams have to hope for an at-large bid to the 32-team field.
“It’s all a mental battle now for championship season,” said third-year Catherine Young. “The physical speed is there–we just need to trust our teammates and ourselves.”
Chicago is coming off of the North Central College Cardinal Open, which saw the men’s squad finish second and the women’s side finish third. The Maroons kept their fastest runners out of that race, however, to preserve them for regionals.
“Those athletes have been mentally and physically preparing [for regionals] through several time trials in the past few weeks,” said first-year Peter Kreuch.
The women’s squad, ranked 14th nationally, will face a strong field including No. 7 Wash U, No. 11 UWLa Crosse, No. 20 North Central, and No. 30 Wheaton. The Maroons finished second behind Wash U at UAAs, and third behind them at the Cardinal Open.
Chicago will go into the Midwest Regionals as defending champions. Last year, the Maroons turned in an average time of 22:11, good for an average mile of 5:57, and 15 seconds faster than second-place UWLa Crosse and third-place Wash U. They went on to finish fourth at the national championships.
Chicago has returned five of its top seven from that race, including Young and third-year Brianna Hickey, who were the Maroons’ top two finishers at UAAs. They’ve also enjoyed strong seasons from first-years Megan Verner-Crist and Claire Costelloe.
The No. 28 men’s squad faces a particularly stacked field including North Central and Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the nation’s two top-ranked DIII teams. They’re also facing No. 10 Wash U and a host of Wisconsin schools: No. 5 La Crosse, No. 17 Platteville, No.18 Oshkosh, and No. 22 Stout.
Last year, the men finished sixth at the Midwest Regionals, but earned an at-large bid to the national championships, where they finished 28th. Their two top finishers from last year graduated. The rest of their seven, though, have returned this season, including third-year Michael Frasco, who finished second at UAAs.
They’ve also seen strong improvement from second-year Gareth Jones, who finished fifth at UAAs, and fourth-years Kevin On and Renat Zalov.
“Our team needs to trust our training and push our pain tolerance as far as we can,” Frasco said.
The men will start their 8k race at 11 a.m., followed by the women’s 6k at noon. The race will take place at UW-Oshkosh.