BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The first Patriot League champion will be crowned on Saturday, as the cross country teams will take to the Harry H. Lang course in Hamilton, N.Y. in search of the first title of the fall 2012 season. After a 24th-place finish in a star-studded field at the Pre-Nationals in Louisville, Ky., the Lehigh men’s cross country team will be in search of its first Patriot League Championship as the Mountain Hawks have come as close as second in 1992. The women will be in search of their second title in school history, the lone championship coming in the fall of 1992.
The Mountain Hawks will look to junior co-captain Tyler Mueller to lead the charge as the Pottstown, Pa. native has collected two individual wins this season, before finishing 19th overall in a field of 332 finishing runners at the 39th Annual Paul Short Run men’s Gold race. Mueller and the rest of the Mountain Hawks will compete against the premiere talent of the Patriot League that includes, along with Lehigh, three other regionally-ranked teams.
Mueller was also the top finisher in Lehigh’s latest meet, finishing 54th out of 272 competing athletes in the Mountain Hawks’ first race away from the Goodman Campus Course. The field Mueller competed against at Pre-Nationals included nine nationally-ranked squads, including No. 3 BYU and No. 9 Tulsa. It was the most competitive race the Mountain Hawks have competed in this season as it included five more nationally-ranked teams than the Paul Short Run.
The Mountain Hawks finished third last season behind a 78-point performance that placed them 20 points ahead of Army. It was their best performance since a third-place finish in 2008 in which Lehigh scored 77 points, falling 30 points short of the co-champions Navy and Army.
The only other time Lehigh has squared off against a Patriot League opponent this season, aside from the annual Dual Meet with Lafayette, was when Colgate senior Chris Johnson competed in the Paul Short Run and finished seventh, 12 spots ahead of Mueller. Mueller will get another shot at Johnson, but this time on the Raiders’ home course, as Lehigh’s junior co-captain will be looking to unseat the defending champion in his own backyard.
Sam Bernitt is the top returning runner from last year’s race, finishing 15th with a time of 25:38.90. Lyle O’Brien (25:41.20), 2012 co-captain Jimmy Miller (25:41.80) and Mueller (25:56.00) placed 17th, 18th and 25th a year ago, as each will be looking for an improved performance and that illusive Patriot League Championship.
For the women, Lehigh is coming off of a 15th-place finish at the Princeton Invitational two weeks ago in its first race away from the Goodman Campus Course. Junior Hannah Pierce was the Mountain Hawks’ top finisher, crossing the line in 22:54 for a 54th-place finish. Sophomore Ingrid Simon and junior co-captain Tori Berard crossed the line simultaneously at 23:07, placing 74th and 75th, respectively. Pierce was the top Lehigh performer of a field consisting of 219 finishing competitors. As a team, the Mountain Hawks scored 379 points, 29 points behind 14th-place Rider.
The Princeton Invitational was the second time Pierce finished as a top performer for the Mountain Hawks after placing sixth in the Lehigh Invitational to start the 2012 campaign. Junior Marissa Galante is the top returning performer from last year’s Patriot League Championships as she crossed the line in 23:31.80 for 30th place. She and the rest of the Mountain Hawks scored 128 points en route to a fifth place finish. It was Lehigh’s best finish at the Patriot League Championships since placing third in the 2008 league championships.
Katherine Howley (23:33.80), Jess Kendzor (23:42.90), Shannon Wright (23:43.50), Sam Andersen (23:55.30), Amanda Gosselin (24:01.70), Shannon Nelson (24:14.20) and Pierce (24:41.90) are all returning runners from last year’s Patriot League Championships that were held on the Goodman Campus Course. Ever more seasoned, this year’s squad will look to unseat the defending champion and regionally-ranked Navy Midshipmen from their title.
The Mountain Hawks will look to the leadership of its captains, Andersen and Berard as well as senior Julia Perry to pace the pack in hopes of capturing that illusive title. Perry will be well-rested, as the Reading, Mass. native has not competed since a 146th-place finish in the women’s Gold race at the Paul Short Run. She has been Lehigh’s top performer in her only two races this season, winning the Lehigh-Lafayette Dual Meet before her performance in the Paul Short Run. Saturday’s action will start at 11 a.m. with the women’s race, followed by the men at 12 p.m.
After Saturday’s race, Lehigh will await the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Qualifiers at University Park, Pa. on November 9 before the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky. on November 17.