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Men’s cross country faces nationally-ranked opponents this weekend

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

After both competing in the same place at last week’s New England Championships, the Massachusetts men’s and women’s cross country teams are traveling to two very different locations for meets this time around.

The men’s team is on its way to Fayetteville, Ark. for the 2010 edition of the annual Chile Pepper Festival, while the women’s team is heading to the Rothenberg Race in Warwick, R.I.

The men’s team’s journey to the Chile Pepper Festival will take them further south than any UMass cross country squad since the mid 1970’s. There, the Minutemen will race against stiff competition from all around the country, including No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Arkansas and No. 7 Indiana. These schools are the highest ranked that the Minutemen have faced off with this year.

Junior Girma Mecheso, who leads No. 2 Oklahoma State, was named the Big 12 Men’s Cross Country Runner of the Week for his performance at the Cowboy Jamboree on Sept. 26.

The Ethiopia native led the Cowboys to a first-place team finish at their home track, as his individual time in the 8,000 meter race of 23:46 was more than 20 seconds faster than the second-place competitor.

This is the first time that Mecheso has won this award, and the second time that a member of the OSU team has won the honor this year. Freshman Tom Farrell was awarded the prize after his performance at the Hurricane Invitational on Sept. 4.

The host of the Chile Pepper Festival, No.6 Arkansas, is currently enjoying it’s highest ranking of the season. A strong second-place finish at the Sept. 25 Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. and an idle weekend was enough to catapult the Razorbacks up two spots in the USTFCCCA national poll.

No. 7 Indiana shot up 18 spaces in the national poll this week, after making a strong statement at the adidas Invitational on Oct. 2. The Hoosiers took first-place in the race, overcoming strong opponents like former No. 6 Wisconsin and former No. 11 Syracuse. Sophomore Andy Bayer was named the Big Ten Runner of the Week after the meet for his second-place overall finish.

The women’s team faces a less star studded, but equally formidable field at the Rothenberg Race. Notable schools competing include Connecticut and Brown.

UConn is coming off its best result of the season at the NEC, where they came in second. Freshman Allison Lasnicki was the top finisher for the school, as she came in 14th overall. Their performance was the best ever for the Huskies at the NEC, eclipsing a fourth-place showing in 2003.

Brown finished 21st overall at those same NEC. Freshman Melanie Fineman was first to cross the finish line for the Bears, coming in 86th overall.

The Minutewomen are looking for more strong performances from sophomore Courtney Baldwin, senior Gina Perno, junior Karen Roa and senior Elizabeth Fisk.

UMass coach Julie LaFreniere was very impressed with her team when talking about the performance of this group last week,

“Any of them could be the lead runner. They ran very, very well,” LaFreniere said.

After this, both teams return to action at the Atlantic 10 Championships on Oct. 30 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Ben Lambert can be reached at wlambert@student.umass.edu.

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