Cross Country ready to chase Big East crown

October 28, 2010

Ayalew Taye is looking to break away from the pack in Syracuse. (Photo courtesy of Sports Information)

Georgetown men’s and women’s cross country teams have both more than justified their top-25 preseason rankings over the course of this season. So this weekend, when the teams head to Syracuse, N. Y. for the Big East Championships, the chase will be on.

Ayalew Taye is looking to break away from the pack in Syracuse. (Photo courtesy of Sports Information)

Both squads are expected to finish among the leaders after very promising performances at Pre-Nationals this past weekend. Led by sophomore Emily Jones’ fifth-place finish and top-20 performances from junior Emily Infeld and senior Renee Tomlin, the women finished first in the field of 40 teams. Freshman Madeline Chambers and sophomore Kristen Kasper also placed 29th and 35th respectively, rounding out the Hoyas commanding performance. Ranked 11th overall in the preseason, the team’s strong showing has moved them up to No. 5 in the nation, and made them one of the favorites for the weekend’s Big East clash.

Men’s cross country also showed massive potential at Pre-Nationals, placing sixth out of 36 teams. Senior Ayalew Taye led the way, finishing 14th overall in the eight-kilometer race. T.C. Lumbar, also a senior, and sophomore Andrew Springer finished 27th and 28th respectively. The men are ranked No. 21 heading into this weekend’s championships, up one spot after their impressive performance at Pre-Nationals.

The Hoyas owe their strong showing to the rigorous workouts they underwent to prepare for these races. Taye said his weekly workout—which has not changed much since last summer—has him weight training and running about 80 miles per week. While that sounds like a daunting workout, for Taye and his teammates, it’s routine.

“Over the long-term, it’s about training—what kind of workouts you’re doing, preparing for the physical demands of the race,” Patrick Henner, director of both the men’s and women’s teams, said. “There’s a lot of physiology involved.”

Cross country demands more of its athletes than stamina, though, and the Hoyas focus on maintaining mental strength as well.

“People just think you are out there and you run, but there’s a lot to it like any other sport,” said Taye. “You really have to know your surroundings when you run [and] who you should be competing against. … Coaches will say you’ve got to go out and get a top-10 or top-5, and you have to be in that spot.”

Executing this game plan is not merely about being the fastest runner, but also the smartest runner. Henner pointed out that it is essential for runners to be aware of their surroundings, maintain composure throughout the race, and approach the race one kilometer at a time.

“Its an 8K race, so if you’re at the 3K you can’t be thinking about the 8K, you have to be thinking about those next thousand meters to get to the 4K mark,” Henner said. “Just like in basketball or football, if it’s the second quarter, you’ve got to be concentrating on the next play, not what’s going to happen in the fourth quarter.”

The men’s and women’s teams, both well-coached and disciplined in these central principles, could be among the top teams in this weekend’s Big East field, though neither is the clear-cut favorite. The women will find an extremely difficult challenge in No. 1 Villanova, the defending national champion. As hosts, No. 8 Syracuse will also pose a significant threat to the Hoyas. But Georgetown is glad to play the role of the underdog.

“We’re a team coming in who got fourth at the Big East last year. Villanova is the number one team in the country and the defending national champions so the pressure is 100 percent on them,” women’s coach Chris Miltenberg said. “We’re the team that’s coming after everybody and I think that’s the fun and exciting spot to be in.”

Likewise, the men will be the second-highest ranked team in the field, but they’re behind the host, No. 17 Syracuse, who Henner has called the clear favorites. Having finished first or second in the Big East Championships eight out of the last ten years, the pressure is on Georgetown to produce similar results this year. But with Notre Dame, Louisville, and Villanova all ranked in the top 30, a top finish may be tough to repeat.

Beyond the important conference test this weekend, both teams admitted to having their sights set on the national championships.

“The Big East is definitely a big meet, and it’s exciting, and we obviously want to do well,” Infeld said. “But I think that at the same time, we keep it in perspective. The end of the season is more where our goals are.”

Even the coaches, who are usually careful not to look past the challenge at hand, said that placing in Nationals is the benchmark for a successful season, even though the Big East title is typically one of the nation’s top conferences.

“The Big East is very important for Georgetown but it’s not the end-all be-all either,” said Coach Henner. “We’re looking at the national scene. … We know we have one of the very best teams in the country.”

Nevertheless, a Big East title would be a welcome addition to the trophy case as the Hoyas progress towards their ultimate goal of a national title.

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