BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh women’s cross country team is ready to open its 2012 season by hosting the Lehigh Invitational at the Goodman Campus Course on Friday. The Mountain Hawks took first place in last year’s race and return five runners that placed inside the top 13 including Shannon Nelson who finished sixth with a time of 22:57.40.
“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 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 four other top 13 returning runners could prove vital to success in this year’s race. Hannah Pierce (23:01.60) placed eighth and Katherine Howley (23:11.20), Victoria Berard (23:12.40) and Jessica Kendzor (23:21.50) finished 11th through 13th respectively.
“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.”
“They know how to stay poised in a competition and how to run and race strategically and patiently,” said Utesch. “I think they’ll be five of those people that will be able to do that for us.”
The Mountain Hawks (36 points) finished 31 points lower than runner-up Lafayette. Kutztown placed third (97), West Chester took fourth (112), Muhlenberg finished fifth (157), LaSalle placed sixth (178) and DeSales (195) and Moravian (204) finished seventh and eighth respectively.
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.
Lehigh was predicted to finish fifth in the Patriot League’s Preseason Poll released Thursday. Navy was picked to win the Patriot League, receiving 11 first-place votes, followed by Bucknell (3), Army (2), Colgate, Lehigh, American, and Lafayette and Holy Cross tied for seventh.
The Lehigh Invitational will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Goodman Campus Course on Friday, Aug. 31.