Now it’s time for the real running to start. This weekend the men’s and women’s cross country teams will venture deep into the Midwest, to Terre Haute, Ind. for the NCAA Pre-National Meet.
As its name might suggest, the meet is held on the same course as the national championships. In addition to offering runners an opportunity to see the course, it challenges them with some of the best competition in the country, courtesy of one of the widest fields in the regular season. There are 90 men’s teams and 97 women’s teams attending.
“It’s a huge step up in terms of competition,” said men’s distance coach Robert Johnson. “It’s a huge meet, and it’s going to be a great experience.”
That doesn’t mean the Red is changing its game plan though. The team has the same aims as it did in the early season, gaining experience and improving. The goal, said Johnson, is “for the guys to go out there and show that our rate of improvement is continuing.”
Ultimately the men have their eyes on the Heptagonal conference championship. That meet will be run in two weeks, and this weekend will set the tone for the training and the preparation before that race.
“We need to do well here (at the Pre-Nationals), to use this as a stepping stone,” said Johnson. “We’ve still got to get a lot better before Heps.”
Johnson is confident his runners will do fine, though. The team has been running harder practices, working on its speed to get ready for the championships.
“All the signs point to us having a good race this weekend,” said Johnson. “I know we’re in good shape.”
“The key thing,” noted the coach, “is the guys have to go out there and run their own race. It’s really important that [they] not get caught up in it being the pre-national meet.”
But that shouldn’t be a problem; the team is right on track.
“We’re trying to take the next logical step,” said Johnson. “Our season is going to be defined over the next four weeks.”
Women’s head coach Lou Duesing evaluated the meet much like Johnson did.
“This is kind of the transition from the regular season to the championship part of the season,” said Duesing.
The pre-national meet, he continued, gives athletes a great chance to run against some top flight competition.
“It’s important to race competitively in a big field so we’re callused,” Duesing noted. It prepares the runners for the bigger races ahead.
Duesing also noted that a strong performance at pre-nationals can go a long way toward helping a team qualify for an at-large bid to the NCAA championships. With that in mind, the women will be looking to surprise a few teams.
And Duesing is confident his top seven are capable of such a surprise. All they have to do is race well, taking their experience from previous meets and using it.
“Everyone has to run their own race,” said Duesing, in agreement with Johnson.
The runners not participating in the pre-national meet will travel up to Rochester to participate in the Harry Anderson Invitational. Only the top seven get to go to Indiana. And they will certainly be ready to go.
“Everyone is really excited about getting to perform on a national stage,” Johnson summed up.
And hopefully for the Red, they can gain some recognition there too.
Archived article by Matt James