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Cross country looks to upperclassmen to get back to A-10’s

 

The Massachusetts cross country teams will travel to New Hampshire for the Dartmouth Invitational on Saturday, with the men looking to take their first step towards back-to-back Atlantic 10 titles.

The Minutemen, who edged Duquesne by one point at last season’s A-10 Championships, will face a new set of challenges this season. On paper, the team didn’t lose many players, but the caliber of athletes that left the roster puts the team in a difficult position. The team will have to work hard to fill the void left by the departure of two of the team’s top performers, Nils Fischer and three-year captain Jesse Reigner. However, UMass coach Ken O’Brien believes the roster is loaded with experienced athletes who can step up and lead.

“As the indoor and outdoor [track and field] seasons progressed, I noticed some of the younger competitors step up and improve performance-wise and mentally. They started to become active leaders and … accept responsibility,” O’Brien said.

While the younger members on the team are improving, the Minutemen have experienced veterans to support them in seniors Andrew Mulvaney, Jonathan Pierce, Nicolai Naranjo and Andrew McCann. Mulvaney had a particularly strong season in 2008. He posted the team’s best time in both of the meets in which Fischer did not compete, and finished two places behind him (fourth) when the two went head-to-head at the A-10 Championships.

Pierce finished first on the team at that meet, and also had an impressive track and field season. The same could be said for McCann and Naranjo, who consistently finished top five on the team.

“We have a schedule which is relatively consistent [with those of recent years],” O’Brien said. “We use the first two meets to shake out the competitors. It is a schedule we are familiar with and can plan around.”

Meanwhile, the women’s team will try to get on track early after a sub-par 2008 season. Redshirt junior Shiyi Zan looks to lead the Minutewomen once again, and will be at the forefront of a talented group of sophomores and juniors.

Zan was undoubtedly the team’s best competitor last season, notching the team’s best time whenever she competed. In addition, she also had  a strong track and field season this past spring.

Along with Zan, sophomores Karen Roa and Claire Pettit consistently finished in the top three, and never finished lower than fourth on the team in any competition. Roa was second on the team in five races, while Pettit finished second once, and third three times.

Juniors Gina Perno, Elizabeth Fisk and Kristin Darling could also factor into determining the team’s success. Perno was one of the team’s best performers last season and is poised to take the next step. She finished in the top five on the team in all of her races, while Fisk and Darling consistently hovered just above that mark.

UMass starts the season off with two smaller competitions. After the Dartmouth Invitational, the teams return to Amherst to host four-way meets. The men will take on Connecticut, Maine and Vermont while the women will take on the latter two in addition to Boston College.

Mike Mastone can be reached at mmastone@student.umass.edu.

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