With the regular season portion of their schedules completed, both the Lehigh men’s and women’s cross country teams are preparing to host the Patriot League Championships this Saturday.
Junior Maura Henderson said the team completed base and strength training over the summer and into the start of the season. As the Mountain Hawks approach the championships, Henderson said they are focusing on “fine-tuning” all of their efforts leading up to this point, both physically and mentally, with the help of a sports psychologist.
“We’re really excited for the Patriot League Championship,” Henderson said. “We’ve been talking about it all season.”
Junior Brian Arita said the men’s team has been running a lot of mileage since May. Arita said this intensity continued into the fall season with the team completing two to three workouts each week, leaving the Mountain Hawks physically drained and not performing at their peak.
“We’re mentally ready, but are running in the middle of a 90-mile week,” Arita said.
Both teams are beginning to focus their energy on advancing to the top of the Patriot League before they’re put to the ultimate test at the championship.
Women’s cross country coach Debbie Utesch said the team is starting to taper and rest by reducing its training to prepare for the championship.
Arita said it’s a relief to have arrived at the onset of the Patriot League Championship after a long season of training. She said the championship is the only thing on the team’s mind now.
The women’s team is coming off its performance at Penn State, where they placed 14 out of 17 teams. Utesch said the team is looking to bounce back and ensure each runner is well-rested to perform at the high standards that the most consistent runners have shown in their performances.
“I think the team has been feeling some pressure,” Utesch said. “Not performing as well as we hoped at Penn State may have relieved it of the pressure it was feeling. Going into the championship as underdogs allows the team to focus entirely on its performance.”
The men’s team traveled to Boston University in late September and Penn State earlier this month, placing 8th in both competitions against 18 teams at Boston U and 14 at Penn State.
Arita said a front-runner has yet to emerge within the top five teams: Army, Navy, Boston U, Bucknell and Lehigh.
Utesch said the women’s team finds itself in a similar situation.
“There is no clear-cut team dominating the Patriot League this year,” she said. “It will come down to who’s ‘on’ that day.”
A competition of this magnitude comes with certain pressures and nerves that both Henderson and Arita said they are able to minimize in their own ways.
“I run for a purpose greater than myself, which is usually my team,” Henderson said.
Arita said the team isn’t nervous about what it’s doing, but rather how the championship will play out. He said the home-field advantage and the familiarity of the course alleviates stress and helps the team better prepare.
With an even playing field before them, both the men’s and women’s teams are looking for a way to come out on top.
The Patriot League Championship will take place Oct. 28 at Lehigh’s Goodman Campus.