Oct. 31, 2014Championship Central
The Boston University men’s and women’s cross country teams will take aim at the Patriot League Championships hosted by Lehigh on Nov. 1. The women will defend their title at 11 a.m., before the men’s race commences at 12 p.m.
After claiming the team title in the program’s first season in the conference last year, the women’s squad enters this weekend as the preseason favorite to defend its championship in 2014. However, while head coach Bruce Lehane is confident that his group can finish as expected, he believes it will not be easy.
“It’s going to be tough,” Lehane said. “We have three of our scorers back (from last year’s meet), so that really helps. You’re not going to win the meet unless you score fewer than 60 points, so you can’t have your fifth person in the 80s, 60s, or 50s. We’ve got to get everybody up. Having said that, a lot of the kids have improved and I’m thinking they’re going to be focused on placing themselves in the right position in the race.”
Senior Rosa Moriello is the reigning individual champion and she has one win on her 2014 resume, having finished first at the Ted Owen Invitational. She’s the favorite entering the weekend, though she may not cruise to as easy a victory as she did in 2013. Lehane mentioned that Lehigh’s Elizabeth Weiler is one harrier that will challenge Moriello, but he remains confident in his senior standout.
“I think Rosa, who won by a wide margin last year, is going to have more of a challenge this year,” Lehane said. “She’s been running well and I think Rosa will win it, but it’s going to be a little bit of a battle.”
Two of the other top finishers from last year’s championship squad, junior Michelle Sumner and sophomore Shelby Stableford, will once again be expected to score well. Sumner in particular has had a stellar 2014; the two-time Patriot League Runner of the Week has posted a top-10 finish in all three races in which she has competed this season.
“Michelle has developed really well,” Lehane said. “Her tendency is to charge out very aggressively and we’re going to have to contain that a little bit this time out because when you do that, there’s a possibility you can do better than ever, or worse than you otherwise are capable of because the physiological toil can be so heavy.”
“Her speed early on is very fast,” Lehane said. “I like that in one sense. She’s aggressive, very competitive and she wants to go to that next level. That’s what you want your kids to do. This particular race though, you want to play it closer to your vest.”
Lehane also hopes that Sumner and Stableford can use their experience to help their teammates through a tough course on Saturday, particularly in the middle of the race.
“This will be a 6K race; they’ve been running 5K races (all season). Sometimes athletes don’t adjust. They just go at the same speed. The first half of the race is fun and games. And then right around a mile and eight-tenths, that’s over. Then you get into a really tough spot until the finish line is coming up. There’s that no-man’s land where you need help. You’re really tired, the finish line is nowhere in sight, and you’re struggling. That’s when a teammate can help you along, help you get through that. Our competitors will be able to run with us early, but when they get to that zone, we have to look tough. It demoralizes your opponent.”
BU has several runners that can complete the group of five athletes needed to place high on Saturday to ensure a repeat of last season’s success. The roster includes harriers that competed at last season’s championship as well as some newcomers.
“Sarah Saccoach and Hallie Armstrong are both capable,” Lehane said. “Neither of them raced last year. Rachel Lotterman has improved a lot and Erin Pierce, she’s capable of doing the job if she has a really good day. That’s why I think we’re going to pull it out. These kids have worked hard over the whole year and they’re going to be well-focused and they just have to do their part.”
The men’s squad was predicted to finish fifth in the preseason poll, which was where the team placed at last year’s conference meet. While the Terriers will be without Rich Peters, whose final cross country season concluded last November, head coach Bruce Lehane thinks he has a stronger team in 2014.
“I think they’re definitely looking to show themselves being competitive as a group,” Lehane said. “Last year, Rich was outstanding and the other guys were further back. This year we have a stronger group. As a team, I think we’re better than we were last year. We have four guys running at a real strong level.”
Two Terriers will be racing in their home state, as senior Ben Ravetz (Blue Bell, Pa.) and junior Paul Gennaro (Abington, Pa.) each grew up about an hour from Lehigh, which is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Ravetz has two top-five finishes on his 2014 resume, including a second-place showing at the Nassaney Invitational in September.
“For some reason, the Pennsylvania guys love to run in Pennsylvania,” Lehane said. “Ben and Paul are both excited to go home to race.”
The other two BU harriers expected to be part of the top four are juniors Kevin Thomas and Alec Olson. Both athletes had strong outdoor track seasons and are looking to break through in cross country. Olson had one cross country win in 2013 while Thomas has a pair of top-10 finishes this year, including a ninth-place performance at the New England Championships.
“Kevin won at 5,000 meters and Alec won the steeplechase at the conference outdoor meet last year,” Lehane said. “They are better on the track, but they also want to prove to themselves that they’re good at cross country as well.”
“Mitch has improved by 2:00,” Lehane said. “That’s ridiculous. He’s come along a lot and that gives us hope. Matti has shrugged off his cross country ability, but now, with a little encouragement, he’s getting a better focus. He’s learning the ins and outs of the sport. I think seeing Mitch make that big jump has him looking like ‘Hey, if he can do it, I can do it.’ We’ve got some positive energy going that way.”
Despite being selected to finish fifth on Saturday, Lehane thinks his team will surprise some people and be one of the groups in the hunt for a top-three showing.
“Twenty-five minutes is a milestone for Division I cross country,” Lehane said. “In other words, 5:00 a mile. We have four guys that can do that. If we can get the four guys to do that, I think we’ll do better than our projected finish. I’m hoping we can get top three. Navy has a very strong group – five guys averaging around 24:30 – so that’s probably unrealistic. With the other schools, there are a couple of real strong individual performers, but as total packs, there is a lot of parity among the second, third, fourth and fifth teams. It’s up to us to come out and have our best day. I’m looking forward to the competition.”