For more than a decade, the cross country season began with a dual meet against the military academy at West Point — an opportunity for Cornell to knock the rust off from the offseason before some of the more competitive meets.
But this year is different. In just a few days, the majority of Cornell’s 47-member women’s cross country team will head down to State College, P.A. for an ultra-competitive invite hosted by Penn State.
The Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational will feature seven Division I schools — four of which are ranked in the top 25 nationally — and will provide an early test for the Red, unlike first contests in previous years.
Still, the team is not shying away from the opportunity and is looking forward to the test.
“Our team is very excited about this,” said head coach Artie Smith. “The meet this weekend at Penn State will be an excellent opportunity to get our feet wet right away by competing against a good sized field of roughly seven Division I schools that includes several nationally ranked women’s teams.”
Cornell will compete against No. 15 Syracuse, No. 19 Georgetown, No. 38 West Virginia, No. 23 Princeton, St. Joseph’s and host Penn State, ranked 13th.
As the team prepares for Saturday, each member must be ready to compete both physically and mentally, and the mindset for real competition is markedly different from that of practice runs.
“One of the hard things at this time of year is transitioning from a training mentality to a racing mentality … [competing] does take a different type of mindset,” Smith said. “Callousing oneself to the grind of racing and getting used to the decisions and effort that go into competing are skills that need honing.”
Oftentimes a team’s first meet means added pressure on the athletes to perform at their highest levels, but Coach Smith does not seem worried by this. Instead, he views it like any other week.
“I would hope there is not added pressure,” Smith said. “All I ask is that each woman on the team gives their very best effort. Whether that is the first meet of the season or the NCAA Championships, that best effort is all we expect and all they can expect of themselves.”
Smith is also confident is his newest class of freshmen, all of whom, “have demonstrated a great deal of composure and consistency so far this season in their training,” he said.
“There are always jitters and nerves when anyone does anything for the first time… but if they approach the race the way they’ve handled the first few weeks of practice I don’t anticipate anything that will get in their way,” Smith said.
While they hope for — and expect — a positive performance, the team is also ready for some soft spots to show up when all is said and done. According to the coach, this is an integral part of early season meets and the team’s subsequent development.
“I hope that we will discover things we’ll need to work on after we look back on this weekend’s race,” Smith stated. “At the same time, finding good achievements to celebrate will be fun, but we also look forward to finding the things to work on.”
That said, rigorous offseason training and strong individual results in last year’s track season point to a successful start to the 2016 campaign.
Smith would not go into specifics regarding results for the meet, but it appears his expectations are high. However, he did continue to stress the multitude of meets this season so as to not get overly caught up with each week’s results.
“I expect a good start because the start to our training has been terrific,” Smith said. “But it is important to remember that all the races are important and we measure our success in each race (first or last) based on the effort we put out.”
Smith concluded, “If our group goes out and competes to the best of their ability right now we’ll have a successful weekend and will be setting the stage for exciting things in our meets to come… We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to get started than with the meet this weekend.”
Action gets underway at 10 a.m. Saturday.