It’s time for the second meet of the cross country season, and the path is getting a little bit tougher.
This weekend the men’s and women’s cross country teams head back east to the Iona Meet of Champions at Van Cortland Park in New York City.
The meet offers some of the best teams either of the squads has seen yet, including many Ivy foes. It is an excellent chance to see how the Red’s teams compare to their competition in the Heptagonal League.
Furthermore, the race is held on the same course as the Heptagonal championships.
The women come in ranked 21st in the country according to the latest NCAA coaches’ poll, tops in the league. They rose seven spots from last week, when they were ranked 28th.
Unlike the ladies, Cornell’s men will arrive at the course unranked, but that doesn’t worry men’s distance coach Robert Johnson.
For the men’s team, Iona is all about picking up some experience and figuring out where it is in the league. The goals are simple.
“We want to show improvement from the first meet,” said Johnson. “I’m basically looking for our guys to run well,” he continued.
Since the five-mile course is the same as Heps, the meet offers some excellent experience for the team’s newer runners. They can get out, get a time on the course and get an idea of how to run it, noted Johnson, and that can be invaluable later in the season.
Iona will be the first chance for the Red to run at full strength this season. Senior captains Geoff Van Fleet and Dan Dombroski will both make their return from injuries. With the return of the two top runners, the squad should get a significant boost, especially compared to its undermanned performance at West Point two weeks ago.
“This will be a good barometer of where we are,” said Johnson.
However, he said, it’s still early in the year and a lot can change between now and the end of the season.
“The biggest mistake teams make is putting too much emphasis on the early season meets,” noted Johnson. “We really have our eyes on the meets in November.”
One of the team’s priorities is to keep from repeating last year’s mistakes. The 2001 squad placed third at Iona, then eighth at Heps.
So this year, the men will run their races with an eye toward the future.
“I view this meet as the last one in the preseason,” Johnson said.
Right now the Red is still preparing for what’s ahead.
“I’m excited to see exactly how much our guys have improved,” said Johnson. “It’s a good meet in the sense that we can get an idea of how far along we are,” he continued.
This performance can show the men what they’ll need to do in the weeks ahead so they can succeed in the big meets.
“We’re really trying to focus on the long term,” Johnson reiterated.
That’s where the team’s goals lie.
The ladies go into the meet with aims similar to the men’s team.
“There are going to be 27 teams in this race, and they really cover the spectrum of abilities,” said the women’s head coach, Lou Duesing.
At the meet, he said, will be some slow teams, fast teams, nationally ranked teams, and everything in between. No. 22 Wake Forest, No. 23 Southwest Missouri State, No. 24 Yale and Division II No. 2 Adams State will all be in attendance. Additionally, five of the nine Heps schools will be racing.
All those rivals — in the polls and in the league — don’t mean Duesing is strategizing his team to death on a mission for victory.
“We’re trying to keep it very simple,” said Duesing. “We don’t know enough about the competition to have a specific game plan,” he continued.
The meet, he noted, gives the team “a good chance to get out, see where we are.”
With that in mind though, Duesing isn’t too worried about the team’s position in the polls at this point in the season.
“On the one side I think it’s neat that people think we’re that good,” said Duesing.
But on the other, he continued, the polls don’t matter too much until the end of the season. The main advantage to the ranking, he noted, was to gauge the competition.
“We kind of get a feel for the teams we’ll be running against later in the season,” he noted.
Like the men, the women’s team started out in its first meet without its captain, senior Carlan Gray, and she will be returning this weekend.
While the team won’t be at full strength with senior Natalie Whelan out for a wedding and sophomore Amber McGown battling a heel injury, the Red still wants to do well at the meet.
“It’s a step in the process,” Duesing noted.
And it is indeed an important step. The “process” leads back to the 6000 meter course at Van Cortland park later in the season.
“The conference championships and the [NCAA] Regional meet are both on this course, so we have to try and learn to love it,” he continued.
Ultimately, Duesing is excited about his team.
“I continued to be extremely pleased with the attitude, with the fun people have in training,” he said. “It’s a group that’s working very, very hard in workouts.”
It’s a sentiment that the men’s coaches would be sure to agree with about their own squad.
Duesing was unequivocal:
“This is a group I’m willing to go to battle with.”
Archived article by Matt James