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Cross country heads to Paul Short Invitational

In some ways, this Friday’s 36th annual Paul Short Invitational represents a transition in both the Massachusetts men’s and women’s cross country season. Coming two weeks after their only home meet of the season, the invitational will transport the teams out of New England and into Bethlehem, Pa. to compete against some of the strongest cross country programs in the country.

The field is composed exclusively of  Division I programs, including Iona College, a team that has been the National runner up for consecutive seasons in the NCAA championships. Perhaps more importantly for UMass men’s coach Ken O’Brien’s team, is that the race also features five of the top seven teams in the Atlantic 10 conference, in which the Minutemen will look to defend their title, their first since 1995. 

Last season UMass turned in a strong performance and finished sixth in the invitational. Coach O’ Brien described it as the most successful race that the team raced until that point. This year he is looking for similar results, but knows it won’t be easy considering the depth of this year’s field.

“This year’s field is a little bigger and the quality of teams is a little deeper. Any type of a finish in that area would actually represent a type of improvement,” O’Brien said.

Not only is O’Brien aware that this will be his team’s first time competing against such a strong field this season, but he is also conscious of other elements that his team will have to adjust to on the run, literally.

“The reason [the size] is important is because it’s the first time we’re going to see about 40 colleges on the starting line,” he said. “It’s the first time we will put a large number of people at the starting line and that has all types of implications that are a lot different from the last races we have run. It’s [approxminately] 10 times as many people, who are better.”

The Minutemen had a week off after their victorious home meet. Coach O’Brien described it as “relaxing,” as it allowed his team to train without the thought of a race on their mind.

The Minutewomen are also coming off a week of rest, and will head to Pennsylvania to compete on the women’s side of Paul Short Invitational.  The race features 41 teams and, similarly to the men’s field, includes five A-10 teams. 

The Minutewomen finished 27th out of 43 teams in last year’s race, and received a lot of strong contributions from several runners. Karen Roa, ran the 6k in a time of 22:40, and Shiyi Zan lead the team by finishing 58th out of 296 runners, with a time of 21:43. Both runners are integral parts of the team this year, and look to lead the way again. Another runner who looks to continue her success this weekend is sophomore Claire Petit, who in the Minutewomen’s finished in the top 20 in team’s last meet.

The men’s race will kick off at 11:00 a.m on Friday, and the women’s race will kick off shortly after at 11:45 a.m.

Jeffrey Engmann can be reached at jengmann@student.umass.edu

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