BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s and women’s cross country teams will seek to defend their titles as the Mountain Hawks host the Lehigh Invitational this Friday at the Goodman Campus Course. Both teams won the event last year as the men finished with a perfect score of 15 points after they took places one through five. This season the women return five runners that placed inside the top 13 a year ago and hope a new team dynamic will lead them to victory yet again.
“The first thing we always look for is a strong and solid pack,” said men’s head coach Todd Etters. “Last year we went one through five in the meet but we had about 10 guys in that pack for most of the race. This year we really want the same story and that is to be able to have about 12 guys racing together through at least a mile and a half of this meet.”
2012 junior co-captain Jimmy Miller won the race last year after finishing with a time of 18:45.80. Along with Miller, two other returning runners placed in the top five at last year’s race. Junior Sam Bernitt (18.52.50) and 2012 junior co-captain Tyler Mueller (18.52.80) will seek to build on their previous success as the duo finished fourth and fifth respectively. Sophomore Ryan Mahalsky crossed the line in ninth place with a time of 19.04.20 and sophomore Casey Gilboy placed 16th (19.20.20).
No additional pressure comes from having to defend the title but Etters does believe that there could be a few nerves this Friday.
“There’s not really added pressure because we won it two times in-a-row,” said Etters. “I think the added pressure comes because this is the first competition of the year so people are a little bit more amped up and anxious about that more than anything else.”
The men were recently picked to finish third, receiving a first-place vote in the Patriot League’s Preseason Poll released Thursday.
For the women, the team is currently undergoing a change in dynamic as new runners will emerge as the top performers in 2012. This weekend will serve as a window into what may come throughout the 2012 campaign.
“I think this weekend’s going to be a lot of fun because we have a whole new dynamic going on with our team,” said women’s head coach Debbie Utesch. “We’re going to have new people taking over the role of number one runner and new people in our varsity line up. I don’t know who all those people are going to be yet so I think it’s a real exciting time for some people to take advantage of the opportunity to step up and be a performer for us.”
The experience of the five top 13 returning runners could prove vital to success in this year’s race. Shannon Nelson finished sixth last year with a time of 22:57.40, while Hannah Pierce (23:01.60) placed eighth. Katherine Howley (23:11.20), Victoria Berard (23:12.40) and Jessica Kendzor (23:21.50) crossed the line 11th through 13th respectively in 2011.
“I think just having been there and done that before helps them,” said Utesch. “They’re some of the people that I’m really looking for to develop their voice. I think they’re a really good core of performers that are going to be able to go out there, lead by example and show how to get it done.”
Utesch hopes that the offseason training her team has gone through has helped develop the leaders for her 2012 squad. With new faces needed to lead the pack, the Mountain Hawks’ program gives Lehigh runners a chance to obtain the right mindset leading into the season.
“We’ve been doing some off-the-field work with our leadership program and the leadership academy here to help the returners identify what their roles are and how to embrace them,” said Utesch.
The women were predicted to finish fifth this season in the Patriot League’s Preseason Poll, receiving 57 points.
The men and women will look to defend their titles at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31 at the Goodman Campus Course. The Mountain Hawks will host their next event on Sept. 14 when they welcome in Lafayette for a dual meet at the Goodman Campus Course beginning at 5:30 p.m.