Cross Country Heads to Pre-Nationals Invitational|
Oct. 12, 2012
CINCINNATI - Of the 60 nationally ranked teams in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) current polls, 55 of them will be competing in one of two meets this weekend. And so will be University of Cincinnati men's and women's cross country teams.
That's the scope of the challenge that awaits the Bearcats when they run in the Pre-Nationals Invitational, hosted by the University of Louisville at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, the site for this year's NCAA national championship meets. The men's 8k race will start at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and the women's 6k race will follow at 10:15 a.m.
The other meet is the University of Wisconsin's adidas Invitational. Between the two meets, 28 of the men's and 27 of the women's top 30 teams will be facing one another in a weekend that holds the potential to shake up the rankings. For the Bearcats, whose men's team is ranked 10th in the USTFCCCA's Great Lakes region and the women's team is not ranked, this represents an opportunity to compete against the very best and improve their standing.
"This is a very attractive collection of runners and one which will test us to the ultimate," said UC head coach Bill Schnier. "You can look bad easily in a meet like this one, or you can also rise to the occasion and compete like crazy."
At least the course will be familiar to the UC teams. This was the site of last season's BIG EAST championships and the Bearcats already know the times will likely be very fast.
"There are no changes to the layout of the course on which we ran last year," Schnier said. "It is very flat and very fast. Being familiar with a course helps a little but the distances are still 6K and 8K and no amount of familiarity can help if you aren't prepared physically."
The UC men's team is coming off a very successful effort at the All-Ohio championship two weeks ago. The Bearcats won the team title and placed five runners in the top 14 spots. Sophomore Colin Cotton continues to lead UC, pacing the team as its top-finishing runner for the third time in three meets.
"Colin is a person who rises to the level of his competition," said Schnier. "He will compete extremely well, as always, aiming for the top. A flat and fast course does not tend to help Colin since he is more of a long-distance runner than a miler, yet nothing will deter him from trying to win the meet."
The Bearcats will also benefit from the return of junior Evan Baum who has been away from campus on co-op but did return to run in the All-Ohio meet and will participate in the next three races on the UC schedule. Baum ran No. 4 at All-Ohio, finishing 13th overall.
Sophomore Jeff Griffiths was UC's No. 2 runner at All-Ohio and seventh overall, running the 8k course in a career-best time of 25:03.81. Senior Chase Beckmann also had a career-best day, finishing in 25:12.35 to place ninth overall and No. 3 for UC. Junior Eric Hauser was No. 5 for UC at All-Ohio.
On the women's side, senior Alison Zukowski returned from injury at All-Ohio and ran No. 4 for UC. Zukowski was UC's top runner last season and her return to form could lend big help at the top of the order for the Bearcats. Sophomore Emily Clay has been UC's No. 1 runner in every meet this season, but there's been a significant gap between her and her next highest finishing teammate.
"It would be very beneficial for Emily to have a teammate with her but up to this point that has not been possible," said Schnier. "Realistically that person will be Ali Zukowski since Ali was ahead of her in all but one meet last year. When Ali takes her rightful place, and I hope she does, then we will have two people up toward the front."
The Bearcats' next-best runners have been sophomore Kaitlyn Meyer and freshman Anne Pace. The pair have interchanged as UC's No. 2 and No. 3 runners, although Meyer has been No. 2 in the last two races.
"Kaitlyn is doing exactly as expected," said Schnier. "She was sick in our first meet (and did not race) but is doing great right now. She is a very good competitor and gets out of herself what she has.
"Anne and Kaitlyn are not in Emily's category at this time but definitely hope to be in the future. They certainly have that ability. If we continue to have all of our top runners healthy and running well, we will be a very strong team."
Freshmen Ashley Earman, Alex Mahle and Stephanie Mee round out the top seven on the women's squad, giving the Bearcats a very young team. But Schnier believes the teams are overcoming challenges like inexperience, injury and missing meets for academic obligations and now are coming into their own.
"We always plan to do better than in the previous meet," said Schnier. "Our entire training is based on improvement each week so this would be an opportunity to improve over the All-Ohio. Improvement can be defined by a time or a place. It will be extremely difficult to win the Pre-Nationals since most of the best teams in the US will be there, but we can always have a winning effort."