In the first meet of her 27th season as head coach of Lehigh’s women’s cross country, Debbie Utesch found her team in a close battle with an in-state rival.
The Mountain Hawks hosted five other Division I schools at Goodman Campus for the Lehigh Invitational on Sept. 1. Utesch said she was most focused on Saint Joseph’s as competition, a team Lehigh finished just above in the final meet of last season, the 2022 NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional.
Lehigh split their fastest runners between the Lehigh Invitational and Colgate’s Harry Lang Invitational, which took place the following day. Utesch said she made this move to help prepare some of her runners for October’s Patriot League Championship, which will also be hosted by Colgate.
Utesch said she questioned beforehand if they would be able to beat Saint Joseph’s with the half-squad but was excited when the Mountain Hawks defeated them by one point.
Lehigh’s 73 points, calculated by tallying the finishing position of the top five runners, barely edged out Saint Joseph’s 74.
Finishing second in the meet, Lehigh was only beaten out by the University of Pennsylvania, which was ranked third in the Mid-Atlantic region by a preseason poll conducted by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Junior Savanah Beavers, who finished ninth, was the first Lehigh runner to cross the finish line.
Beavers emphasized the importance of having her teammates run alongside her to form a pack and race their way to the front.
“I have a greater chance of racing to my fullest potential when my team’s right there beside me,” Beavers said.
Beavers was one of four Lehigh runners who finished in the top 25, alongside seniors Lindsay MacLellan, Abigail Tenreiro and Grace Kolbe, who finished 12th, 22nd, and 23rd, respectively.
The last runner to count toward the final score was sophomore Elisa Brear, Lehigh’s top-scoring underclassman, who finished 30th.
“I think the biggest positive after the race was just that the team dynamic this year is amazing,” Brear said. “We have some really supportive girls on the team, especially the freshmen.”
Six first-year runners ran over the course of the weekend between the meets at home and at Colgate.
Coming into this season with a year of collegiate running experience, Brear said that there is no longer a feeling of “newness” when she takes part in a race.
“I kind of have an idea of what I’m getting myself into, which helps with the stress and anxiety and being able to actually think about the strategy that I’m going to have put into the race,” Brear said.
To conclude the weekend, the other half of Lehigh’s squad competing at Colgate finished third place, behind Bucknell and Syracuse. They defeated the host school as well as other Patriot League opponents Lafayette and Navy.
“Colgate has a unique course,” Utesch said. “It’s one that you want to see before you run the championship there.”
Looking ahead, the team is set to compete every other weekend throughout the rest of the season. In two weeks, they will face Lafayette in an away dual meet.
Despite the fact that Lehigh has defeated Lafayette in women’s cross country for the past 17 years in a row, Coach Utesch thinks it will still be a competitive meet.
“We’ve been fortunate to have their number for a while but we never take them lightly,” Utesch said. “They’re a solid squad and it will be good to take a shot at extending our win streak.”
Afterward, Lehigh will host the Paul Short Run at Goodman Campus on Oct. 30. Last year, the meet attracted 46 schools in the Women’s Gold race in which Lehigh competed.
A month later, they will travel to Colgate for the Patriot League Championship, a meet they finished fourth in last year.