Preview: Cross Country Teams Work Hard in Time Off

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When a team doesn’t compete on a day it normally would, it is often listed as being “idle.” But that’s hardly what the Muhlenberg cross country teams have been.

Charlie Kline
Kline was Muhlenberg's top finisher at the 2011 NCAA Mideast Regional.
Like the other Mule fall sports teams, cross country opened up three weeks ago, running at the Lehigh Invitational. But while soccer, field hockey, volleyball and football have added competitions to their schedule, cross country has not competed since.

The Mules will finally return to racing on Saturday at Cedar Crest’s Falcon Classic, the closest thing the teams have to a home meet. It begins a more regular schedule of competitions every week or every other week, leading up to the Centennial Conference and NCAA Mideast Regional championship races at the end of the season.

“It was strange going three weeks without a race,” admitted junior Ramzy Burns, a co-captain on the women’s team. “It allowed us to get in a lot of really solid workouts in and get a lot of mileage under our belts. It allowed us to train without having to worry about racing.”

“It’s an interesting approach,” added Michael Esposito, one of just two seniors on the young men’s team.

It also has its practical side. After finishing in the top 15 at the regional meet for the previous 10 years, the men slipped to 18th last year.

Ramzy Burns
Burns was the fifth Mule runner across the finish line at last year's regional meet.
“That was terrible,” said Esposito, shaking his head. “I think we got run down because we ran so many meets last year. This year we are trying to redeem ourselves and get back to being in the top 10 or 12 in the region.”

Working towards that goal, Muhlenberg has been putting an emphasis on hills to prepare for the regional meet at Dickinson’s hilly course. The workouts should make the Mules better runners on flatter courses as well.

Only four of the Mules’ top seven from last year’s regional meet are back, including junior co-captains Charlie Kline and Jarrett Felix. Junior Bobby McGetrick and senior Brendan Smith are veterans, and sophomores Luke Munyan and Kenny Wohl will look to build on solid freshman seasons.

Munyan was the top Mule runner at the Lehigh Invitational.

“We’re very young, but we have a lot of talent, and I like the way we look,” said Esposito. “We have three freshmen who are very fast. If the guys develop, we can definitely contend.”

Contending is something the women did very well last year, when they had their best season in program history. The Mules finished fourth, tying their best finish ever, at the CC Championships, and posted their best finish – seventh place – at the regional.

All but one of their top seven from the regionals are back, and there is a noticeable carryover effect.

“In past years we were more focused on just improving,” said Burns. “And that’s still one of our goals, but we have higher goals associated with that.”

One of those goals would be joining senior Samantha Mayden at the NCAA Championships. Mayden became the third Muhlenberg female to qualify last year and is poised to return. Fellow all-region runner Nicki Cronin, a junior, and senior Erica Bash are serving as co-captains and give Muhlenberg a very strong top three.

Burns and sophomores Chelsea Rivenbark and Rebecca Doss are the other returning varsity runners, while junior Lauren Zakheim and sophomore Cassiah Sahl join the squad after making successful debuts with the track and field team in the spring.

The Mules started the season ranked sixth in the region and have dropped to eighth despite not competing. Strong performances in their upcoming meets could push Muhlenberg back up again, and although it may be interesting to follow the polls, the Mules know that’s not what really matters.

“We’re just excited to pack it up and start racing again,” said Burns.