Lions prep for MIAA Championship

The men and women’s cross country teams will run with the hopes of winning the conference title tomorrow at the MIAA Championships.

“This is where our real season starts,” said men’s cross country coach, Tom Rutledge.

The men’s team, which has won six out of the last seven conference championships, is slightly pulling back on practices due to injuries.

“Nick Heberle is still out due to his Achilles injury. Losing him will hurt us,” said Rutledge.

Despite the injury, the team’s goal for conference has not changed.

“Winning the conference championship is a goal that we set our sights on each year,” said sophomore Brennan Benkert. “We take a lot of pride in having won it several years running, and we obviously are looking to continue that tradition.”

According to Rutledge, the team is not as strong on the depth chart as they were last year, but they are still doing well.

“I have some guys that are strong and are going to make up for that,” Rutledge said.

The team, which runs between 85-90 miles per week, will run against teams such as SBU and Pitt State. “We are always the team that people like to beat-the thing is, they are still going to have to beat us,” Rutledge said. “Our tradition and pride will carry us. I’ve got some good guys and I feel confident that we can do it again.”

Coach Rutledge believes that it takes a special kind of mental and physical toughness to compete like his team does. Between practices, meets, and classes, Rutledge doesn’t make it easy on his team. “We are ready physically and mentally and we want to prove that we are the distance running powerhouse in the MIAA,” said senior Dustin Miller [major].

After winning their last two meets, the women’s cross country team jumped to 9th place in the national polls. “Our poll is just an opinion, but it gives the team great recognition for all of their hard work,” said women’s coach Patty Vavra. “It helps keep our confidence up.”

Due to two consecutive, individual wins, sophomore Kimi Shank [major] won MIAA runner of the week for the second time this season. “She has been running extremely well. She is a talented athlete and has gone above and beyond,” said Vavra. “Her training this summer has made all the difference.”

With the MIAA Championships tomorrow, Coach Vavra hopes for team success. The placing at the conference championships will affect the team’s chances at regionals. “For us, the conference championship is more about bragging rights,” Vavra said.

Since last week was an off week for the team, they took time to their advantage, emphasizing rest, training hard, and staying healthy. “We train and compete within ourselves,” Vavra said. “We pull each other through, week in and week out.”

According to Vavra, the sport of cross country is unique. “In our sport, it comes down to running well on one specific day. Our attendance at nationals relies on regionals,” said Vavra. “One thing I know, however, is that it has been a joy to coach this team. They give 100% everyday.”