BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh cross country teams kicked off their seasons at the Lehigh Invitational on Friday night on the Goodman Campus. The Mountain Hawk men took home the title behind first-place finisher Tyler Mueller (18:24.70), while the women finished second after placing three runners in the top 10 including Hannah Pierce who placed sixth with a time of 22:57.91.
“I was very pleased with Tyler’s performance,” said head coach Todd Etters. “I thought he really ran a smart race. He opened up a big gap and was able to hold onto it.”
“Today’s race was a good starting point,” said Mueller. “Our team is probably looking better than it ever has. It’s a good start that is encouraging and gets us pumped for Lafayette.”
Etters was not-at-all surprised by the performance of his junior co-captain. He was well aware of the dedication Mueller provides toward the sport and was pleased that his efforts earned him the win.
“I don’t think anyone was surprised that he could do that,” said Etters. “He puts the work in and has the right mindset and I hope that rubs off on the rest of the team. He’s a captain for us and a great leader by example.”
Along with Mueller, sophomore Ryan Mahalsky (18:35.00) and senior Lyle O’Brien (18:37.37) finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Etters was pleased with the performance of not only Mueller but the rest of his team and was happy about the way his younger runners stepped up in the season opener.
“Ryan Mahalsky, a sophomore for us, ran a great race,” said Etters. “Today he solidified what I was hoping he could do. I think our junior and sophomore classes competed well and we had some nice surprises with our freshmen.”
“I saw a lot of nice things happening with some younger guys stepping up and they really ran well,” said Etters. “I really couldn’t be more pleased with how we performed.”
Also finishing within the top 15 were sophomore Casey Gilboy (18:53.16) who crossed the line in eighth, Russ Vignali (19:02.12) who took home 11th place, and Simon Voorhees (19:05.52) and Sean Burke (19:08.73) who finished 14th and 15th, respectively.
For the women, Pierce was followed by sophomore Shannon Nelson (23:08.34) who finished in eighth place and freshman Jennifer Markham (23:11.83) who placed ninth. Pierce and Nelson have different racing styles but the end result was equally as impressive.
“I think I got a good look at what we have,” said head coach Debbie Utesch. “I’m really pleased that we smashed both of the goals we set out for which were our one through five and one through seven splits. I think with the dynamic of the team we have now, instead of a single front runner that will emerge we have a pack of runners that will get to move forward together and that’s a pretty exciting dynamic to have.”
“They both ran very different races,” said Utesch. “Shannon is a very aggressive racer and she went out a little bit harder and Hannah ran a little bit more patiently, whereas she started towards the middle of the Lehigh pack and worked her way up.”
Also finishing inside the top 15 were senior Tori Berard (23:26.85) and freshman Arielle Weiner (23:31.26) who finished 14th and 15th, respectively. Utesch was happy with her team’s showing and is excited to see what some of her underclassmen can do the rest of the season to challenge the experienced upperclassmen.
After overcoming her nerves at the start of the race, Utesch was pleased with her team’s overall performance even though the Mountain Hawks did not retain the title. She knows that the performance of her freshmen is a bright spot for a team that has changed its dynamic from a single front-runner to a pack effort.
“I found myself at about five o’clock with the pre-race butterflies in my stomach because I really didn’t know what I was going to see here today but I am definitely relieved,” said Utesch.
“Looking at some of the teams that we beat in the line-up, I’m happy with that,” said Utesch. “I think we have a good core to work with and move forward. I’m very pleased with our freshmen. We had some immediate impact with them so that young blood coming in will keep the upperclassmen honest.”
Both teams will be in action on Sept. 14 when they welcome in rival Lafayette for a dual meet starting at 5:30 p.m. on the Goodman Campus Course. The men have beaten the Leopards in 13 straight meets, while the women have won seven straight against Lafayette.