Bearcats head to Nashville for Commodore Classic
Women's No. 1 runner Emily Clay

Sept. 14, 2012

The University of Cincinnati men's and women's cross country teams travel to Nashville, Tenn., this weekend where they will run in Vanderbilt University's Commodore Classic. The men's team will be competing at the 8k distance for the first time this season while the women's team will be running 6k after participating in 5k races the past two weekends.

The race will be run at Nashville's Percy Warner Park, located about eight miles south of Vanderbilt's campus. This will be the most competitive field the Bearcats have faced this season. With Vanderbilt set to host the Southeastern Conference cross country championships on this same course on October 26, the field is understandably heavy with SEC schools. In the field as a whole, there are two nationally ranked and nine regionally ranked men's teams and one nationally ranked and 10 regionally ranked women's teams, per this week's U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCA) polls.

"It will be quite a meet," said cross country head coach Bill Schnier. "Going into the meet we will be expected to beat some and lose to others. However, this is a perfect test since our athletes can decide if they are serious about being good or not."

This is a meet the Bearcats men's team won last year but this year they won't have five runners who led them to that victory. Eric Finan was the top overall finisher in the men's race but has since completed his eligibility after an All-American senior season and will be watching this race as a member of the UC coaching staff. Oliver Book and Kevin Fink were respectively fifth and 19th overall and the Nos. 2 and 3 runners for UC in that race, but both will miss the entire 2012 season due to injury. The runners who were Nos. 4 and 5 for the Bearcats in last year's Commodore Classic, juniors Evan Baum and Tyler Ross, didn't run in last week's Queen City Invitational and aren't on the roster of student-athletes going to Nashville. Baum is off campus this semester for co-op and Ross is injured but hopes to be back in time for the All-Ohio championships at the end of September. That leaves the runners who scored in the Nos. 6 and 7 positions - senior Chase Beckmann and junior Eric Hauser - as the Bearcats' top returnees from last year's race. Beckmann finished 38th in the 2011 Commodore Classic, covering the 8k course in 26:29.10, and Hauser was 55th in 26:59.40. Sophomore Jeff Griffiths was a non-scoring runner for UC in the 2011 race, finishing 72nd overall in 27:16.60, and will also return to compete in Saturday's race. However, the Bearcats do have a new potential No. 1 runner in Colin Cotton, a sophomore transfer from Williams College (Mass.). Cotton was UC's top runner in last weekend's Queen City Invitational, finishing third overall in a race that served as the season opener for the Bearcats' men's team.

"I believe our men did quite well at the Queen City Invitational," said Schnier. "It was their first meet and the other teams' second so that put them at a disadvantage. Yet, they still ran well despite that and our injuries.

"Colin Cotton really stood out since he is a transfer and an unknown. He ran exceptionally well, better than anticipated."

The women's team placed fifth at last year's Commodore Classic, but like the men's team will compete this year with many new faces. Four of the seven scoring runners from 2011 won't be competing on Saturday. Senior Alison Zukowski, who finished fifth overall last year, is sidelined with an injury that has kept her out of the Bearcats' previous two meets this season. Three others - Cortney Staruch, Jill Glassmeyer and Bridget Connelly - completed their cross country careers last season. But the team does have back runners who ran Nos. 2 and 3 for the Bearcats at the Commodore Classic last year - sophomores Emily Clay and Kaitlyn Meyer. The pair finished 23rd and 37th, respectively, last year. Clay has been strong in the Bearcats' first two meets this year, placing 14th overall in the season opening Flyer 5k Challenge and third in the Queen City Invitational. She was UC's No. 1 runner in each. Meyer missed the Flyer 5k Challenge due to an illness but bounced back to finish 10th overall in the Queen City Invitational.

"The women's team improved and showed much more depth in the Queen City Invitational," said Schnier. "Once we get Ali Zukowski back we will be a very good team. Kaitlyn has been our No. 3 runner all along but she could not run the first meet because she was sick. She simply took her rightful position."

Freshman Anne Pace has been the top new addition to the team, placing as UC's No. 2 runner in both meets. She was 24th overall in her collegiate debut at the Flyer 5k Challenge, covering the course in 19:31.6, then sliced 17 seconds off that pace when she finished sixth overall at the Queen City Invitational in 19:14.10.

"The second race was on a slower course so that time improvement is quite impressive," said Schnier of Pace. "She is becoming a major factor as a freshman."

The Commodore Classic men's 8k race will be run at 10 a.m. ET and the women's 6k will follow at 10:45 a.m. ET.