BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s and women’s cross country teams will begin the 2011 season when it hosts the Lehigh Invitational on Friday at the Goodman Campus Course. The men will look to defend its first-place finish from last year’s race at 5:30 p.m. while the women - which took second last year - will again look to finish towards the top at 6:15 p.m.
"The race is a 6k so it’s a little shorter on the guys," said men’s cross country head coach Todd Etters. "What I’m looking for is just a nice tight pack and breakaways the last mile of the rice. If we can execute that, I think we will be fine in this meet."
"It’s a starting point race for us," said women’s head coach Debbie Utesch. "It gives us a comparison of where we are year-to-year as we start the season from a performance standpoint."
In last year’s race, the men were led by placed five runners in the Top 10 including Evan Flach who coasted to a first-place finish with a time of 18:36.0. Sophomores Tyler Mueller and Jimmy Miller will look to have another impressive start to their season as the duo finished third (18:46.6) and fifth (18:51.1) respectively in last year’s race. Junior Lyle O’Brian placed tenth with a time of 19:22.1.
The men’s team recorded a score of 25 for the meet while Rider finished a distant second with a score of 72. Muhlenberg took third, Lafayette placed fourth, DeSales finished fifth, Widener took sixth and Moravian and Kutztown placed seven and eighth, respectively.
While Lehigh is a young team, it returns its top two runners from 2010. Senior co-captains Flach and Evans Kosgei will look to get the team off on the right foot in 2011 on their home course.
"Any time you host, it’s a big help," said Etters. "We get to see the course every day, but racing is different so these guys have to experience that pain of racing."
The women return four runners who finished in the Top 20 including Katherine Pierce who finished second overall with a time of 22:31.8. Carolyn Morse (23:04.9) and Katherine Howley (23:06.1) placed 13th and 14th respectively last year while Hannah Pierce crossed the line in 18thwith a time of 23:38.0.
"We are going to set up packs and match some people up, but I will definitely be looking for those returning girls to be leading some of those packs," said Utesch.
The Mountain Hawks recorded a score of 45 for the meet, finishing just eight points higher than Navy. Lafayette took third, Kutztown placed fourth, Rider took fifth, DeSales finished sixth, Muhlenberg placed seventh and Moravian and Cedar Crest took eighth and ninth, respectively.
Lehigh is hoping to pick where it left off at the end of the 2010 season when the team finished ninth at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships. It was the Mountain Hawks’ second highest NCAA Regional finish under Utesch, who hopes her team can use that momentum as 2011 gets underway on its home course.
Both teams will get its first look at the incoming freshmen. The men’s team features nine newcomers while the women’s team bolstered its roster with six.
"I am sure they will be a little nervous and have some pre-race jitters," said Etters. "I’m hoping they can use this race to see where they can start to fit in with the team."
"I am sure they are full of anxiety," said Utesch. "They have had a lot of new things thrown at them, but they’ve been doing very well and I’m confident in their ability to perform on Friday."
On the women’s side, defending champion Navy won’t be back to race, but regional power LaSalle will join in the mix. LaSalle ranked sixth in the Mid-Atlantic region preseason poll and was picked to finish first in the Altantic-10 preseason poll.
"They are a Top 10 program consistently," said Utesch. "We are excited to have them on our course and match up some of our girls against them."
On the men’s side, LaSalle is equally as tough. LaSalle was picked first in the Atlantic-10 preseason poll and they ranked ninth in the Mid-Atlantic Region preseason regional rankings.
"LaSalle is consistently a Top 10 team in the region for at least the last decade," said Etters. "They are a team we are always shooting for so this will be a nice test for us."