Cross Country Championship Preview

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A student teaching engagement will force Muhlenberg senior Lauren Zakheim to travel separately from her teammates to McDaniel for Saturday’s Centennial Conference Cross Country Championships.

Bobby McGetrick
McGetrick was the third Mule across the line at last year’s CC meet, finishing 41st overall.
“It’s a little upsetting I don’t get to go with the team Friday,” said Zakheim.

Though she’ll be late to the party, once the race starts Zakheim plans on staying with her fellow Mules from the opening gun all the way to the finish line. Both Muhlenberg squads, in fact, head into the weekend – and the NCAA Mideast Regional at Lehigh in two weeks – with a distinct pack mentality.

“A lot of the training we’ve been doing has been sticking together as a pack and rolling through other groups,” said Mule senior Bobby McGetrick. “Each race we’ve had a plan, and it’s worked out perfectly.”

A year ago, the women rode strong individual performances to a school-best fourth-place finish at the conference meet. The men, meanwhile, came in fifth on the strength of a tight pack – the top five runners were all within 54 seconds of each other. This time around, both have their sights set on matching those performances – and staying together to do so.

“We just need to work on staying in our packs,” Zakheim said. “We think we’ll do much better as a team if we can do that.”

Despite their lofty expectations, the Mules understand the challenge awaiting them in Maryland. Four CC men’s teams find themselves in the latest regional rankings, including top-ranked Dickinson and three-time defending regional champion Haverford, both of which are in the top 12 in Division III. Johns Hopkins (No. 5 in the region, No. 32 in the country) and Swarthmore (No. 6) are also quality programs.

“The goal is to get fourth,” McGetrick said. “Top three would be nice, but right now that’s No. 8, 12, and 32 in the country. It’s a very tough conference.

“But the way we’ve been working out and racing – everyone has been real close,” he added. “This is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

On the women’s side, five schools are regionally ranked, including the top three in the Mideast poll – five-time defending regional champion Johns Hopkins (the No. 1 team in Division III), Haverford and Dickinson, all ranked in the top 20 in the country. To exceed last season’ effort, the Mules will also have to contend with Swarthmore and Gettysburg. Still, Zakheim thinks Muhlenberg has what it takes to make it happen.

“Our goal is hopefully to tie that, if not to do better,” the senior said of last year’s finish. “It’s some really tough competition, but we would like to finish around the same as last year.”

Lauren Zakheim
Zakheim has been in the Mules’ top five in each of their three races this season.
The Muhlenberg men will get a big boost in the form of senior co-captain Charlie Kline, who will make his season debut Saturday. The Mules’ top runner a year ago, Kline led the pack at the 2012 CC Championships, finishing 31st overall. Right behind him was Luke Munyan (38), who has filled in for Kline with plenty of success this season, winning the Muhlenberg Invitational and heading the Mules’ pack at each of their four meets.

Meanwhile, McGetrick, juniors Kenny Wohl and Josh Elkan, and sophomore Stephen Sroka are all back to join Kline and Munyan in Muhlenberg’s top seven, with postseason experience under their belts. McGetrick expects Kline’s return to galvanize the entire squad, which has already won two invitationals (Muhlenberg and the Paul Short Run) for just the third time in program history, and the first since 2000.

“It’s going to help a lot,” McGetrick said. “At this point he could be number one for all we know. He’s done it before, and even if he’s not, he’s going to push the guys around him.”

Like the men, Saturday will mark the first time all season that the women are at full strength, with senior co-captain Nicki Cronin back to set the pace. Cronin was gold medalist at the Muhlenberg Invitational, but missed the Gettysburg Invitational as the Mules ran to a ninth-place finish.

Sophomore Melanie Tramontina, the fourth Mule across the line at last year’s CC meet, was the top runner there, cruising to a 19th-place effort, but missed the Muhlenberg Invitational. Senior co-captain Ramzy Burns and junior Chelsea Rivenbark were in Muhlenberg’s top seven at the 2012 CC Championships, while sophomore Claire Thornton, who did not compete in the season-opening Lehigh Invitational, was the Mules’ second runner in each of the last two races.

Despite sharing the course with many of the region’s top teams, both Mule squads plan to use Saturday’s race as a springboard into the Mideast meet. As the weather turns colder, the intensity has started to heat up.

“Everyone,” McGetrick said, “is going to be amped up and ready to go.”
Click here to visit the meet site.