Release courtesy of the Ashland University Sports Information Department
ASHLAND, Ohio - Chase scenes are the norm in movies and television police shows.
The chase scene that will be staged in Ashland on Saturday, Oct. 22, is anything but normal. The 2011 GLIAC cross country championships are coming to town and while AU has hosted championship meets in the past, it's not every day that a congregation of runners like this one arrives.
Fleet feet and fluttering hearts will descend on Brookside Golf Course for this year's event. The women's race will start at 11 a.m., with the men's race to follow at 11:45 a.m. The open race will be staged at 12:30 p.m. (the open race is for runners on GLIAC teams that are not entered in the championship races.). Fourteen teams will be represented at the conference meet.
This meet begins the most important stretch of the season for the AU cross country teams and the rest of the teams in the GLIAC. First comes this conference call. Then, in a couple of weeks, comes the NCAA regional championships. If a team is lucky to qualify, then comes the NCAA championships in mid-November.
"This is a week where we'll take a couple of chances with some people," said AU's second-year head coach Trent Mack. "We'll be in the same situation in a couple of weeks with the same teams and another conference with some great teams. We'll see where we are and what adjustments we need to make in two weeks. This is a huge motivator and a way to carry motivation into the next two weeks."
Here's a preview for this week's conference championships.
The Course – The women will run a 6K course and the men will compete on an 8K configuration. The Brookside Course was home to the 2000 NCAA Division II regional championships, the 2001 GLIAC championships and the 2002 men's and women's NCAA Division II national championships. There have been some slight alterations to the course since those days, for example in the past, the women's championships were sometimes run on a 5K course.
"I would say in terms of cross country it's an ideal course,' said Mack. "It's not a fast course, but you can run a solid race. We have short steep hills, gradual hills and some long, flat stretches. It's a great mix in what you'd look for on a conference course."
Spectators should enjoy the venue. They will have several opportunities to watch the runners without enduring a race of their own trying to keep pace.
While these races are being run in Ashland, the course does not figure to give the Eagles any advantage. This is not the terrain where the Eagles normally train. The advantage for the AU teams is the opportunity to avoid boarding a bus and traveling. The Eagles get to sleep in their own beds and eat where they normally do.
"The course isn't an advantage, but you can stay consistent with what you're doing on a daily basis," reminded Mack. "A lot of their classmates will get to watch them run and that's a motivator."
The Men's Race – The Eagles (ranked 24th in the nation) and the rest of the conference will be trying to figure out a way to crack Grand Valley State's dominance. A year ago the Lakers took the top five spots in the race. GVSU is ranked first in the region and third in the nation.
"Grand Valley is a strong program with a lot of depth," Mack said. "They set a strong early pace and run well as a pack. You can't let them get away from you early on. That's something we've made more adjustments to."
A year ago, the Lakers won the GLIAC crown with 15 points. Ashland
was the runnerup with 98 points, followed by Wayne State with 105
The AU team that goes to the starting line on Saturday has an experienced nucleus. That group has tasted success and it has run well in quality meets. Seniors Brock Weaver (Ashland, Ohio), Matt Stratman (Chardon, Ohio) and Cameron Johnson (Mt. Gilead, Ohio) lead the AU pack. Junior Colton Johnson (Mt. Gilead, Ohio), Cameron's brother, is another battle-tested harrier. That group is supported by a talented group of underclassmen who have bolstered AU's all-around depth. At last year's conference meet, Colton Johnson was the top finisher. He was sixth. Weaver was eighth.
"We feel we're a pretty good team," remarked Mack. "If we go out and do what we've been doing all season we don't have to do anything drastically different. We want to put ourselves in the race and stay in the race. The guys know what to expect."
Ashland has had a strong fall. In their last race, the Eagles won the team championship at the Carnegie-Mellon Invitational in Pittsburgh. Mack emphasizes that the Eagles have the ability to run better as a pack than they did a year ago. He points out that last year, from runners one through seven, there was a two-minute gap. At CMU, that gap was 1:15.
"I think we've fixed that," said Mack. "Now it's just getting on the same page on the same day."
Two other teams to watch on Saturday are Hillsdale and Ferris State. HC is ranked fifth in the region and FSU is sixth.
The Women's Race – Grand Valley State and Ferris State are expected to lead the field. The Lakers are the defending national champions, but are ranked second in the region. The Bulldogs are the region's top-ranked team. Saginaw Valley is fifth in the region, the Eagles are sixth and Hillsdale is seventh. In the national rankings, Ferris State is third and Grand Valley State is fourth.
"It's going to be an interesting race," said Mack. "Obviously, Grand Valley and Ferris State are ranked in the top five for a reason. Ferris has made a huge jump from last year. For our women's team, the challenge is within ourselves."
While the AU men's team is filled with experience, the Ashland women are going to be relying heavily on youngsters. The two veterans in the lineup – senior Mandy Farson (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) and junior Stephanie Stoffel (Cincinnati, Ohio/Glen Este) – have run well throughout the fall. A number of other runners are still learning where they fit into the scheme of things.
"Last year we graduated seven seniors," reminded Mack. "Now the girls are saying, 'It's on me.' We have some great freshmen running with Mandy and Stephanie. They (Farson, Stoffel) did it all last year. They've run well in some big meets. We've closed our gap from last year. That's helping. I see some young individuals capable of having a pretty big race. It's a matter of executing it. They have to believe it, too."
Like the AU men, the Eagle women are coming off a strong performance. At the Carnegie-Mellon Invite, AU finished first in a field of 15 teams. Stoffel was third, Farson was eighth and junior McKenzie Roth (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork) was 13th.
Stoffel was eighth at last year's GLIAC meet and Farson was 15th. Grand Valley State finished first with 18 points. Ferris State was the runner-up with 83 points and Wayne State placed third with 97 points.