After concluding their fall season schedule at the highly competitive Patriot League Championships, both of Lehigh’s cross-country teams will head to University Park, Pa. for one of the highlight meets of the year.
Penn State will host Lehigh along with 31 other cross country programs at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Regionals on Nov. 11.
The Nittany Lions take over hosting duties from Lehigh, after the 2021 edition of the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Bethlehem.
On the men’s side, coach Todd Etters said the team is hoping Regionals will prove to be a bright spot in what has been a difficult season. Etters said the past two years have been disappointing at both a conference level and as a whole. The team finished sixth at the Patriot League Championship.
“You like to go through a season feeling like you’re building up to peak and compete at your best for the championship, but this year and last year we didn’t do that,” Etters said. “Luckily for this year we still have the regional meet to rebound and see if we can perform to the level we think we can.”
The men have seen some bright spots in the season, including a win against Lafayette in a Rivalry meet for the 23rd year in a row.
The team began their season well but weren’t able to field every one of their top runners at full health in any mid-season event.
During the season, senior Tyler French emerged as a top runner for the Mountain Hawks, culminating with a top-15 finish at the conference finals. French’s performance earned him a spot on the All-Patriot League Second Team, and he is expected to lead Lehigh to similar heights at Regionals.
“For me it’s my job to put my nose up towards the front of the race and compete with the guys there,” French said. “We’re having three freshmen racing who have grown a lot in confidence and hopefully a few of them will step up.”
Competing at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals meet is a high distinction, with coaches factoring in a runner’s entire season when making selections for the event.
Utesch said although it would be easy to just look at the top performers in conference meets and make them the runners that compete in the championship, obstacles including injuries and illness can get in the way of these nominations.
Coach Debbie Utesch and junior Christina Yakaboski said they have a more optimistic outlook for the women’s team, which took fourth place at the Patriot League championships, one of their best results in years.
“Coach Deb (Utesch) is big on the phrase ‘be curious,’ and putting yourself out there and seeing what happens,” Yakaboski said. “That’s going to be our motto going into this meet as well. Coming off of our first win against Bucknell in nine years, you never know what’s going to happen, so you have to give it a shot. We’re excited to keep the ball rolling.”
The Mid-Atlantic Regional meet format doesn’t require a qualifying standard, and any program in the country is allowed to field athletes at their respective regional meet.
There are nine regions, each of which is designed as their own national qualifying meet. The top two scoring teams regionally qualify for nationals and an additional 13 teams are added based on how well they performed against the qualified teams during the season, Utesch and Etters said.
For the men, 10 runners will be sent out to compete. French will be joined by fellow seniors Ethan Davis, Connor Melko and Riley Williamson. Sophomores Kevin Harvey and Aidan Lynch round out the squad along with freshmen Adam Barbato, Alex Heideman, and Carter LoPresti. Graduate student Nick Wilson will also compete in his final regional meet.
The women’s side will see nine athletes lining up on the starting line, including senior Madison Zaun, junior Yakaboski and freshman Lucy Afanasewicz. Joining them will be senior Andrea Miller, juniors Lindsay MacLellan, Abigail Tenreiro, Grace Kolbe and sophomores Savanah Beavers and Maddison Hayes.
The women’s 6k race will begin at 10:30 a.m. and the men’s at 11:30 a.m.