The Lehigh women's Cross Country team practices on Oct. 1, 2014. Both the men's and women's teams are currently preparing for the Patriot League Championships on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. (Christina Mueller, B&W Photo)

Cross country teams prepare for Patriot League Championships on home course

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Lehigh’s men and women’s cross country teams will compete in the Patriot League Championships on Saturday. And this year, the teams will have the home advantage as the championships will be held at Goodman Campus.

The runners and coaches of both teams are welcoming the opportunity to host, and familiarity with the course can help the runners compete.  The location of Patriot League Championships rotates every year between Colgate University, Lafayette College and Lehigh’s courses.

The women’s coach, Debbie Utesch, calls hosting the championship an advantage. She said that having the race at home helps runners keep their normal routines such as sleeping and eating.

“We train on [the course]all year, so they should be more familiar with it than any other team out there,” she said.

Men’s coach Todd Etters echoes Utesch, adding that the team is fortunate to be able to visualize where it will be competing.

Senior runner Ryan Mahalsky also expressed his happiness with hosting the race.

“The home meet this year will be incredible because there will be a lot of alumni there and a lot of supporters from Lehigh to cheer us on, and it makes the atmosphere that much more special for us,” Mahalsky said.

Both teams have set high expectations for this race. The women’s team finished second last year and hopes to improve on that position this year.

“We’ve been talking all year about winning the Patriot League, but we also know that there are five teams on the women’s side in the mix for the championship,” Utesch said.

The women’s team is coming off of a solid performance at the Princeton Invitational. At this meet, the team finished eighth out of 35 teams. This event featured one of many strong performances by junior Elizabeth Weiler, who finished third overall.

The men’s team also finished second at the championships last year, and Etters believes that the men’s team can follow that up with a win this year.

“We expect to go in and compete at a level where we can win it,” Etters said. “We’ve got to the culture in our program where we expect to be at our best when it counts the most and that’s certainly the Patriot League Championships.”

Mahalsky has been the men’s team’s best runner this season, and Etters believes that the senior has a great chance of winning the upcoming race. He also said that Mahalsky has been running at an All-American level all year.

“My personal goals are to score the lowest amount of points possible for the team, in order to give us the best chance possible of winning,” Mahalsky said. “This would mean winning the race. Also, setting the course record if the race plays out correctly would be icing on the cake, but that is an after thought to winning.”

According to the coaches, preparation for a race at the end of the season, like the Patriot League Championships, is also very important. Training is centered on getting athletes to peak at the right time so they perform at their best.

“Our volume of running has dropped, but our intensity has stayed about the same,” Utesch said. “But it’s more of a controlled intensity at this point.”

Neither team has elected captains, but the senior runners lead both teams. The seniors on the women’s team are Shannon Nelson, Ingrid Simon, Elizabeth Sinclair and Shannon Wright. On the men’s team, there are five seniors including Mahalsky, Casey Gilboy, Stephen Keith, Simon Voorhees and Nick Ward.

Etters said that the past couple of weeks have placed a focus on mentality among the team. This involves making sure runners feel confident and know what they need to do in their race as far as strategy and when to make moves.

With the four o’clock exams that start on Nov. 3, this part of the season represents a particularly busy time for runners on Lehigh’s cross country teams. Mahalsky said that all these factors can be very stressful for a young student but highlighted the importance of his teammates.

“When you have a great group of guys that are all dedicated and committed to one common goal like we are, it makes it that much more special in the end once we accomplish our end goal,” Mahalsky said.

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