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Cross Country teams close out 2009 this weekend

A week after failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the Massachusetts cross country teams will travel to Bronx, N.Y., to compete in the IC4A Championships.

The meet, hosted by the Eastern College Athletic Conference, will mark the end of the season for the UMass teams.

The Minutemen plan to send the bottom seven runners to New York for the race. Two of the races this season – the NCAA Regional Qualifier last week in Boston and the ISU Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind. – were limited to seven runners per team.

However, this week offers an opportunity for the runners left out in those meets to compete and showcase their skills

“This race serves a different kind of purpose as an extension of the season,” men’s coach Ken O’Brien said. “[The new runners] will now be the top seven people, so they’ll be more front and center. The kids are at various stages, so I have layered expectations [for this weekend].”

O’Brien said this week offers “a hint of the level of competition” for those runners, especially since they will be facing teams from outside the Atlantic 10.

“This is a bigger theater, with teams from Maine to North Carolina, not just the normal 14 from the A-10,” O’Brien said.

Junior Kevin Johnson, the first finisher for the men in the past three meets, will not compete this week. Johnson was recently named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference Academic team, his second straight year receiving the honors.

“The fact that he did it as a sophomore last year is a great response to what was put on his shoulders as a college student,” O’Brien said, adding that Johnson “embodies” the dedication needed of a serious runner.

 Johnson will look to lead the team next season as well in hopes of returning to the NCAA Championships.

“If anyone else is able to compete like him [next year], it will probably be because he will have showed them how to do it,” O’Brien said.

Redshirt junior Shiyi Zan joins Johnson with the honors, also her second year on the All-Conference Academic team.

A-10 Freshman of the Year Courtney Baldwin and Zan have paced the women in the second half of this season, finishing first and second respectively in each of the last four meets.

This weekend offers a chance for the other girls to step up, with the extra meet after the NCAA qualifier coming as practice for the team next year.

The weekend race is the Division I Championship for the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America, with this year’s IC4A Championships being the 101st year of the semi-annual cross country and track and field competition.

Last year, the men finished 13th in the IC4A Championship, while the women did not run. The men have ended the season with a race at Van Cortlandt Park the past six seasons, while the women have finished there the last three.

Daniel Herberholz can be reached at dherberh@student.umass.edu.

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