BETHLEHEM, Pa. - It’s the meet that the Lehigh men’s and women’s cross country teams prepare for from Day 1. From staying in shape in the summer to the preseason work outs, the Mountain Hawks are set for their most important race of the season to-date as they host the Patriot League Championships on Goodman Campus Saturday. The men’s race will start at 11 a.m. and the women will follow with a noon start.
The Mountain Hawks have enjoyed a strong regular season that has included a win at the season-opening Lehigh Invitational, a convincing win in the dual meet with rival Lafayette and most recently, an impressive fourth-place finish at the Penn State National Invitation.
“There is no doubt this is the biggest race that we’ve had so far,” said head coach Todd Etters. “This year we really tried to keep it one week at a time but this race is something that is looming the whole time. We just have to get out there and compete and take care of what we can control.”
Lehigh, whick is looking to improve on its fifth-place finish in last year's race, is led by senior Evans Kosgei who was the League’s runner-up at the last two championships. Evans is undefeated in the Mid-Atlantic Region this fall. The Mioben, Kenya native finished 10th out of 402 runners at the Paul Short Run with a time of 24:25 - the best finish in that race from a Lehigh runner since 2006. Kosgei followed that up with another impressive performance finishing second out of 189 runners with a time of 26:18 at the Penn State National Invite. While Kosgei was second overall, he was the first scoring runner to cross the finish line.
Kosgei will be looking to compete for the individual title as he along with Navy’s Cody Rome and Colgate’s Chris Johnson as all three are considered the favorites.
Lehigh will look to dethrone a Navy team that has won three straight Patriot League Championships. The Mountain Hawks have a deep lineup that includes senior Evan Flach, who has been a front runner along with Kosgei all season. The duo is joined by a trio of sophomores in Jimmy Miller, Sam Bernitt and Tyler Mueller.
“They have really been consistent performers over the last two years and this is their chance with a Patriot League Championship already under their belt,” said Etters. “We really need them to step up and be where I think they can be.”
In addition to those five, it will be freshmen Ryan Mahalsky and Casey Gilboy who will look to make an impact in their first Patriot League Championship. Both have earned Patriot League Runner of the Week honors and both will be an integral part to Lehigh’s success.
“I expect our freshmen to have a big impact in this meet,” said Etters. “There is no pressure on them though. They just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing throughout the season.”
Lehigh has never won the Patriot League Championship in men’s cross country, finishing as high as second in 1992.
On the women’s side, Lehigh has enjoyed a strong regular season that has included a win at the season-opening Lehigh Invitational and a convincing win in the dual meet with rival Lafayette.
Lehigh is led by senior Katherine Pierce who finished 10th overall in last year’s race and will be in competition for the top spot this year. She will be chasing Colgate’s Elise DeRoo who is the two-time defending individual champion as she helped lead the Raiders to their first team title in League history last season.
Pierce finished 66th out of 396 runners with a time of 21:44 at the Paul Short Run this year to lead Lehigh to a 24th-place finish and most recently, Pierce finished 32nd out of 193 runners with a time of 22:24 at the Penn State National Invitational.
"Katherine is looking to be a Top 5 First Team All-Patriot League runner," said Utesch. "Her sites are on the front two so she is ready to make it happen."
Pierce has been joined all season in the front by freshman Savanna Plombon who has had a breakout rookie campaign for Lehigh. Plombon took second at the Lehigh Invitational with a time of 22:05.50 and followed that up with an eighth place finish at the Iona Meet of Champions. While Pierce took first at the Lehigh-Lafayette dual, Plombon was right behind her in second place. At the Paul Short Run, Plombon turned in another strong effort, finishing 84th with a time of 22:02, her fastest time of the year. Plombon finished first among other Patriot League freshmen and for her efforts, was named the Patriot League Rookie Runner of the Week.
Pierce and Plombon will be joined by a deep lineup that includes sophomore Jessica Kindzor, senior Amanda Gosselin, freshman Shannon Wright, sophomore Marissa Galante and others. Although no Lehigh woman has won the individual title, a Lehigh runner has placed second on five occasions, most recently Jen Schappert in 2005.
"Savannah has been very consistent in our number two slot in really helping firm up our numbers behind Katherine," said Utesch. "I think Saturday you could see anyone firming up those spots to tighen up our pack and they need be all over everyone elses no. 4 and 5 runners."
Lehigh will look to do that on its home course, a place the Mountain Hawks are very familiar with as they have raced on it three times already this season.
Both the men’s and women’s team will look to use to its advantage its knowledge of its home course as Lehigh raced three times already on the Goodman Campus course and have been successful each time.
"It's great to be at home," said Utesch. "They are excited and know the course well. It's definitely a psychological advantage. It's nice to be able to sleep in their own bed, eat the food they are used to eating, wake up in comfortable surroundings and run in front of your home crowd."