BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh women’s cross country team has begun their preseason training as it gets ready for a promising 2011 season. The team is excited to be back on campus as the Mountain Hawks look to ride their momentum from the end of last fall.
After a disappointing seventh-place finish at the Patriot League Championships, the women bounced back and ended their fall season by finishing ninth at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships. It was the team’s second highest NCAA Regional finish under head coach Debbie Utesch, who hopes her team can use that momentum as they gear up for 2011.
"We are hoping to spring board off that Top 10 finish from last season," said Utesch, who enters her 16th season at Lehigh. "Preseason camp is always a good time to assess the team’s fitness off of the summer. The league will be very strong this year so we’ll have our work cut out for us, but we have a lot of talent on this team."
The Mountain Hawks are led by senior Katherine Pierce. Pierce was named to the All-Patriot League Second Team last fall and she finished just outside the Top 25 at regionals which would have qualified her for a possible NCAA at-large selection. She finished her best NCAA regional performance in 27th with a time of 21:34.
She was Lehigh’s top female performer at the Patriot League Championships, finishing tenth overall in the women’s 6k race. Pierce was also the team’s top finisher at the Iona Meet of Champions, placing 10th out of 164 runners. She placed second at the Lehigh Invitational, second overall at the Lehigh-Lafayette Dual and placed 36th at the Paul Short Run with a time of 21:22.
"The team is really excited to be back on campus," said Pierce, who will be a co-captain alongside senior Carolyn Morse. "It’s good to be back running together. Over the summer, it can be tough to run by yourself, but the better you train over the summer, the better shape you are in when you get back in the fall."
The team will also rely on junior Victoria Berard and sophomores Jessica Kendzor, Katherine Howley and Hannah Pierce to build off of their successes last year. Kendzor and Howley both cracked the Top 100 in last year’s regionals, finishing 68th and 78th, respectively.
"Those girls are going to make a big jump right in the core of our group," said Utesch. "They are really going to provide more depth and close the gap on our frontrunner Katherine Pierce. We will be a very different team than we were last year."
The team also has a talented group of six incoming freshmen who could contribute right away and are adjusting to their first preseason camp.
"Preseason is a great time to take a look at our freshmen and really get them integrated into the team and build those bonds between teammates," said Utesch. "They have an opportunity to make a real impact for us this year."
The team’s first race will come on Friday, September 2nd at the Lehigh Invitational on the Goodman Campus at 6:15 p.m.