The men’s and women’s cross-country teams will have their last tune-ups of the season this weekend.
Both squads will be competing in two races — the Quinnipiac Invitational Friday in Hamden and the Penn State Spike Shoe Invitational Saturday in University Park, Penn. A meet against Harvard and Princeton, hosted at the Yale Golf Course for the first time in three years, looms Oct. 1 as the beginning of the season’s main stretch, which includes the New England Championships, Heptagonal Championships and Nationals. This weekend’s races will be a final chance for runners to solidify places and get in form.
Last weekend, the teams competed in their first races of the season, both coming away with third place finishes.
Erik Brown ’06 led the men with a 13th place finish overall at the Great Meadows Cross Country Invitational. Eric Kerchberger ’08, Kevin Collins ’09 and Jared Bell ’09 finished 18th, 19th and 22nd, respectively.
The women, who ran in the Fordham Invitational, also contributed several strong performances. Lindsay Donaldson ’08, who finished sixth at the national championships last year, placed sixth despite racing with respiratory problems. She will lead the team in the coming weeks in the absence of another All-American, Cara Kiernan ’07, who is recovering from an injury.
The Spike Shoe presents a mysterious field, as neither team knows exactly which schools it will compete against. Saint Joseph’s, Slippery Rock, and Youngstown State are expected to attend, but the Eli runners will be concentrating on individual times and team strategy rather than head-to-head team competition.
For the men, this weekend’s race will be the first of the year on a 5.2-mile course, an unorthodox distance. It will provide a chance to get mentally and physically prepared for the typical 8k races later this fall.
“We want to beat Harvard and win Heps,” said Kevin Collins ’09, who finished 19th last week in Virginia. “I think the Harvard-Yale race is important, but we won’t be treating it in the same way we’ll treat pre-nationals and Heps because it is so early in the season.”
Men’s captain Pat Dantzer ’06 agreed the early portion of the season is not the best indicator of the more important late season races.
“The other Ivy League teams look good early, but it’s early so it doesn’t really matter how they look,” Dantzer said. “It’s what you do in late October that really matters.”
Collins reinforced the fact that the men’s team, much like the women’s, will be running this weekend with the future of the season in mind.
“We just want to tank through and get in a good week of training to prepare for next weekend,” he said.
Women’s head coach Mark Young agreed this weekend’s races exist to strengthen the runners for more important events on the horizon.
“For us, it’s like the football team scrimmaging Princeton,” he said.
The women, who are ranked 29th in the nation, will use this weekend’s race to prepare for a shot at a berth in the 32-team field at Nationals. At-large bids for that event are awarded by judges at Pre-nationals, held Oct. 15. Heps, the Ivy League Championships, follow on Oct. 29.
First and second place at the regional championships Nov. 12, held in Boston, guarantee an invite to the national championship. The women have fallen just short the last few years, finishing third in 2003 and 2004, and fourth in 2002.
Young echoed the farsighted approach of his team.
“There are a lot of teams that are great in September and not so great come November,” he said. “I’ve coached enough top-10 teams that I think I know how to manage the team.”