Preview: Championship Season Begins for Cross Country Teams

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who better to ask for advice on the eve of the championships than two of the best cross country runners in Muhlenberg history? Click on the logo above to read about a recent meeting between the Mules and a pair of Hall-of-Famers.
Since the course at Haverford is pretty flat, the Muhlenberg men’s cross country team won’t have to concern itself too much with hills at the Centennial Conference Championships. Except the one it’s been climbing all season.

The Mules have been working to restore the program to the levels it enjoyed last decade and will get to gauge their progress in the first of the two championship races tomorrow at 10:00. The Muhlenberg women, who climbed that hill a few years ago and now have one of the best teams in program history, follow at 11:00.

Tomorrow is the first half of the championship season for the cross country teams; they’ll travel to Dickinson for the NCAA Mideast Regional in two weeks.

The Muhlenberg men finished second at the CC meet in 2006 but have dropped steadily since, coming in sixth each of the last two years. But a new attitude has the Mules optimistic that they can reverse the trend.

“All the individual runners have developed a lot more confidence in what they can do,” said senior Brendan Smith. “Some years we were overwhelmed by the competition. This year we really started to focus on ourselves and what we can do.”

Brendan Smith
Smith has the highest career finish of any active Mule at the CC meet, coming in 41st as a sophomore.
The competition could seem overwhelming. Host Haverford is ranked No. 1 in Division III, and Dickinson, Johns Hopkins and Swarthmore are also regionally ranked.

So what can Muhlenberg do? With a young team (Smith is the only senior who will race on Saturday), the Mules won the Falcon Classic. They also finished third, just behind regionally ranked York (Pa.), at the Dickinson Long-Short Invitational.

In four competitions, three different runners – sophomore Luke Munyan and juniors Charlie Kline and Bobby McGetrick – have led the team across the finish line, while Smith came in 10th overall in the 4K at the Dickinson meet. Those four runners were separated by less than 27 seconds at the team’s most recent meet, the Leopard Invitational, and the closeness of that pack is a result of a closeness the Mules have developed when they’re not running.

“Out of my four years here, this is definitely the closest team. Everyone hangs out together,” said Smith “It creates that environment where everyone is more positive and allowed us to maintain our focus.”

That focus has helped the team be mentally prepared to reach new heights.

“We’re kind of hoping to surprise some teams that expected to beat us before the season started. I really think we can turn heads,” Smith said. “This is the most I’ve ever looked forward to a conference race.”

Erica Bash
Bash has finished in the top 20 in three of her four races this season.
Like the men, the Mule women will face some tough competition. Johns Hopkins, Haverford and Dickinson have been the top three teams in the regional rankings all season, and all are ranked in the top 15 in Division III.

Muhlenberg has been in the regional rankings all year as well. In the last poll, the Mules were seventh, one spot behind Gettysburg – a team Muhlenberg finished ahead of at last year’s CC meet but has not raced against this season.

“It’s really a good race for us to prove ourselves,” said senior Erica Bash. “It was kind of our hope to be ranked a little higher.”

The team’s top three runners have proven themselves over the course of their careers. Senior Samantha Mayden, who came in sixth at the snowy 2011 CC Championships, has finished in the top three in all four of her competitions this season. Bash has consistently lowered her times, and junior Nicki Cronin, an all-region runner last year, is back at full health after missing the first part of the season with an injury.

“Throughout the season, with the intensity and all the mileage, you’re bound to have hiccups like injuries and illness,” noted Bash. “We were lucky to get that out of the way.”

Newcomers Melanie Tramontina and Jackie Shulack were the team’s fourth and fifth runners at Connecticut College two weeks ago, with junior Ramzy Burns and sophomores Chelsea Rivenbark and Cassiah Sahl giving the team solid depth. According to Bash, the flat course should be an advantage for the Mules.

“We have a fair amount of mid-distance people who like that sort of thing,” she said. “It makes us more excited that it’s going to be a quicker race.

“We’re also excited just to race again,” she added. “We were ready after Connecticut College.”