Toledo, OH - The men and women will arrive at the start line after travelling two different paths, but both lineups will cross the same finish line with the same goal: winning the MAC championship.
The women's team is taking a long-standing tradition of success with it to Muncie as it has recorded six top-two conference finishes in the past 10 years, including three times atop the podium. The squad looks to win its second-consecutive conference title and continue on its quest to win the Great Lakes Regional championship and earn a top-15 finish at the NCAA meet. Back from last year's winning squad are two first-team All MAC runners (senior Ari Fisher and sophomore Megan Wright) and two second-team All-MAC performers (senior Emma Kertesz and junior Devyn Ramsay).
With three of those four out with injury for different parts of the season, Kertesz has elevated her performance to another level, finishing first for the UT in each meet to this point and entering the MAC meet as the favorite to win the individual title.
Her main competition may come from a familiar face, as Fisher, a two-time champion and the pre-season favorite, is back from injury and is looking to make conference history. Should she win the race on Saturday, Fisher will become the first runner in MAC women's cross country to win three championships in a row.
Head coach Kevin Hadsell thinks that Toledo could play the role of spoiler as many of its top runners who have been out are now returning just as the action is heating up.
"Because we've been lining up for races without some of our top runners all season, I think people are going to be surprised by who lines up on Saturday, how good they are, and how ready we are to defend our championship," said Hadsell.
The men's team doesn't have the same track record of success at MACs that the women have had, but are looking to add their name to the list of title perennial title contenders.
The Rockets are coming off a 2010 performance in which UT was the only school to have three All-MAC finishers, two of whom are returned this season in senior Jonathan DeWitt and junior Nick Thomas. Extremely talented freshman Hillary Serem replaces his graduated cousin, Elisha Kipchumba, to form what the coaches see as yet another trio capable of carrying the team at the front of the pack. In contrast from last season, though, this year's team has developed additional depth in the lineup, as the 4-5-6 runners look to make more of an impact on the score sheet. As this lineup has improved its depth on a micro-scale, the team looks to advance its development on more of a macro-scale as it attempts to break into the upper-echelon of men's cross country programs in the MAC.
"There is a difference between good teams and great programs," Hadsell said. "If you have a good team, it's like you're hoping to win, and that's where I think we are on the men's side. We haven't established that we have a great program yet, but this could be the first step towards that.
"We're very good up front with Hillary, Nick and Jon, maybe even better than we were a year ago when we had three All-MAC runners," added Hadsell. "The difference this year is the improvement of Jacob Barnes (sophomore), Jake Kasperski (redshirt-freshman) and Daniel Thompson (freshman). They have added legitimate depth to the lineup."
The men's team has yet to race in a meet at full strength this season, as various runners have occasionally been out with minor injuries, but the runners and coaches are excited about the potential that can be realized at the MAC championships.
"Both teams have made huge improvements," said Hadsell. "Literally, every single person on both teams is healthy and training well and that makes us hard to beat on both sides."
The next event on the schedule for both teams is the NCAA Great Lakes Region championship meet on Saturday, Nov. 12 at Ottawa Park. Detailed information on that event can be found here.
Contact: Brad Pettiford
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