The Lehigh cross country teams are gearing up for their most important meet of the season to-date. The Mountain Hawks will make the short trip to Easton, Pa. for the Patriot League Championships hosted by Lafayette at Metzgar Fields Athletic Complex. Both Mountain Hawk squads will be looking to improve on their performances from last year’s championships, where Lehigh’s men finished fourth while the women placed seventh.
The Lehigh women defeated Lafayette on the Leopards’ home course earlier this year. The Mountain Hawks also took second at the Lehigh Invitational and placed sixth out of 18 teams at the prestigious Iona Meet of Champions.
“We’ve had some pretty good races,” said women’s head coach Debbie Utesch. “I like what I’m seeing in our workouts. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. We had 95 percent of our team had a phenomenal race at Penn State. If we can get the other five percent to do what they’ve been doing all year and we get it together on the same day, we can fight for third place.”
Junior Katherine Pierce was Lehigh’s top finisher in all five races she competed in this season. She will also be looking to replicate the success of last year’s third place overall finish.
The Mountain Hawks will also rely on seniors Andrea Mascaro and Kaitlin Grimm, who was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2006. Freshman Jessica Kendzor had a strong showing last time out and will be looked upon to contribute as well.
“You always look to your upperclassmen leaders,” Utesch said. “Andrea Mascaro has been a consistent performer for us throughout her career. She’s been an unsung hero of the team, but she’s been invaluable to our program. We’re also blessed to have Kaitlin Grimm back for a fifth year. She has been a front runner for us. We’re looking to those two to set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Lehigh placed four women in the top 110 at Penn State two weeks ago, en route to 17th place out of 31 women’s teams. Lehigh has won a women’s Patriot League Championship, back in 1992. Although no Lehigh woman has won the individual title, a Lehigh runner has placed second on five occasions, most recently Jen Schappert in 2005. One of the goals for Lehigh this year will be to prove that last year’s seventh place finish was an aberration.
“With the exception of the freshmen who are making an impact, those other girls are definitely looking for redemption,” Utesch said. “They want to prove to the Patriot League that last year was a fluke that’s not really what Lehigh Cross Country is about, and show the league what they’re made of.”
On the men’s side, Lehigh has enjoyed a strong regular season that included a win at the season-opening Lehigh invitational and a convincing win in the dual meet with rival Lafayette.
I think we’re getting close to where we need to be,” said head men’s coach Todd Etters. “We’re physically ready to race. The biggest battle will be are we mentally ready to race. It’s hard to gauge that but I think the guys have spent all season preparing for this race mentally, so I hope we can get it done on Saturday.”
Junior Evans Kosgei leads the Mountain Hawks, as he has been Lehigh’s top finisher in his last four races. Kosgei finished second overall at last year’s championships and should be one of the top contenders for the men’s individual title.
Others to watch on the men’s side include seniors Andrew Jervis and Steve Sample, junior Evan Flach and freshman Jimmy Miller
“Evans was the runner-up last year and ran a great race to accomplish that,” Etters said. “He should be in the same position this year. (Andrew) Hanko from Navy has looked very good so Evans’ job will be harder this year. As for Jimmy Miller, you never know with a freshman because it’s his first Patriot League experience. On paper and based on how he has raced all year it really does look like he has a legit shot at being top-14 and winning that award.”
The Mountain Hawks last competed at the Penn State National Invite on October 16, placing 17th out of 27 teams. Lehigh has never won the Patriot League Championship in men’s cross country, finishing as high as second in 1992. Kosgei became the third Lehigh male to finish second in the championship race, with his runner-up finish last year.
“We want to leave with some hardware,” Etters explains. “We want to go in and at least be top two. We want to see three or four guys make it to the all-league team. That will set us up well. Confidence is big in our sport. If we can build that confidence in Patriot League’s it will carry over for regionals.”
Action at the 2010 Patriot League Championships begins Saturday with the women’s 6K at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s 8K at 12 p.m.