BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh vs. Lafayette battle will renew once again on Friday when the men’s and women’s cross country teams meet on the Goodman Campus Course at 5:45 p.m. for their annual dual race with the rival Leopards. The men’s team will be seeking its 14th consecutive victory over Lafayette while the women will be seeking their seventh straight win against the Leopards. Both coaches understand the history and tradition that is involved with this rivalry and both also know that the opposition is just as fired up as they are.
Fresh off its first place victory at the Lehigh Invitational on Aug. 31, the Lehigh men’s cross country team is seeking to defend its 13-straight dual meet winning streak against Lafayette at 6:20 p.m. Junior co-captain Tyler Mueller won the Lehigh Invitational after finishing with a time of 18:24.70, while Lehigh placed three runners in the top five. For his efforts, Mueller earned Honorable Mention in the Patriot League’s Cross Country Weekly Awards for the week ending on Sept. 2.
"I want to see the guys run hard," said head coach Todd Etters. "It’s the first 8K of the season for them and I expect them to be in packs and helping each other out throughout the race but I do expect Tyler (Mueller) to take charge. He won the last race and is more than capable of doing that again."
The Mountain Hawks hope to ride their momentum after finishing with an overall score of 29 points at the Lehigh Invitational, 85 points lower than second place finisher Lafayette. Along with Mueller, sophomore Ryan Mahalsky (18:35.00) and senior Lyle O’Brien (18:37.37) finished in the top five, crossing the line fourth and fifth, respectively.
"I feel very good about going against Lafayette," said Etters. "We just saw them two weeks ago so I don’t think there will be too many surprises. We’ve had a great month of training since we’ve been back so I think it’s a great way to test ourselves and see where we’re at."
Last year, Lehigh coasted to a 15-50 victory over Lafayette as the Mountain Hawks took the first eight places at the dual. Junior Sam Bernitt won the race as a sophomore with a time of 26:30.30, while five more of the top eight runners from last season’s meet will return for Lehigh. Mueller, O’Brien, Mahalsky, Casey Gilboy and 2012 co-captain Jimmy Miller finished in the top eight and will be among the Mountain Hawks to team with Bernitt in hopes of beating the Leopards for a 14th consecutive year.
"I think it (the 13 consecutive victories) just proves how consistent we’ve been over the years and it also proves that we take this meet very seriously," said Etters. "I don’t think Friday will be any different."
Lafayette’s Will Volkmann (18:30.83) was the first Leopard to cross the line at the 2012 Lehigh Invitational, finishing in third place as the only Leopard to finish in the top 10. Lafayette’s next highest finisher was sophomore Andrew Haff (19:26:21) who crossed the line in 21st place. Volkmann could provide an obstacle to the Mountain Hawks as he finished 16th (27:27.40) at last year’s dual meet, becoming the third Lafayette runner to finish in 2011.
Meanwhile, the Lehigh women’s cross country team will be in search of its eighth consecutive dual meet victory over Lafayette at 5:45 p.m. The Mountain Hawks finished second in the Lehigh Invitational on Aug. 31, falling just 24 points shy of Delaware, but placed three runners inside the top 10.
"One of the premiere benchmarks of our program every season is how we stack up against the Leopards," said head coach Debbie Utesch. "We’re really looking to keep a tight pack together. We’ve talked about the course and where we want to make some moves and how we want to work together through different portions of our course."
Last year, Lehigh knocked off Lafayette 20-39 and finished four of the top five runners including returnees Shannon Nelson (22.58.70) and Samantha Andersen (23:03.10), who placed fourth and fifth, respectively. The Mountain Hawks will return five of the seven Lehigh runners that finished in the top 10 of last year’s dual meet with Lafayette. Along with Nelson and Andersen, Amanda Gosselin (23:09.00), Jessica Kendzor (23:09.60) and Marissa Galante (23:17.00) finished eighth through 10th, respectively.
Lehigh’s top finisher at the Lehigh Invitational was junior Hannah Pierce, crossing the line in sixth place (22:57.91). Pierce will be looking to ride that momentum and improve on her 15th place finish (23:42.00) in last year’s dual with Lafayette, while freshman Jennifer Markham (23:11.83) finished ninth in her first collegiate race at the Lehigh Invitational, providing a youthful spark to the Lehigh line-up.
"On the other side, I think they’re fired up to be the team that stops the streak so they’re going to bring it and we’re going to be ready," said Utesch. "We feel it’s our responsibility every year as the first sport to go against Lafayette in the Lehigh-Lafayette series to start everything off with a ‘W.’"
Lafayette finished sixth at the Lehigh Invitational after recording an overall team score of 148 points. The top finisher for the Leopards was Rose Willey, who placed 12th with a time of 23:24.42. Willey was the first Lafayette runner to finish in last year’s dual meet, crossing the line in third place at 22:55.50. She will be the only returning Lafayette runner to finish inside the top 10 from last season’s dual meet.
"We’re very proud of the streak that we’ve been able to maintain over the course of the last few years," said Utesch. "We’re not going to take them lightly. We know that with the dual meet and the pride, tradition and alumni watching that they will bring everything they have and we have to lay it on the line and get it done again."
Next up after the meet with Lafayette, the Mountain Hawks will compete in the nationally-recognized 39th Annual Paul Short Run, presented by Brooks on Sept. 28. The all-day event will start at 10 a.m. with college open races. The men’s college gold 8K run will begin at 11 a.m. with the women’s college gold 6K run slated for 11:45 a.m.