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UMass cross-country prepares for A-10 Championship in Richmond, Va.

The Massachusetts men’s cross-country team is hoping that its long break going into the highly anticipated Atlantic-10 championships proves to be beneficial.

Collegian File Photo

Having not raced since the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 19, the Minutemen have had plenty of time to prepare for the meet that everyone has been waiting for.

The team was predicted to place eighth in the preseason polls, but the surprising emergence of the underclassmen has turned heads this season.

Although the team is led by upperclassman Antony Taylor, the bulk of the team’s scoring this season has come from first- and second-year runners, including Ben Groleau, Miles Hodge, Daniel Sheldon and two-time A-10 Rookie of the Week winner Blake Croteau.

What started off as a rebuilding year for UMass coach Ken O’Brien has turned into a season with many high notes coming as early as the UMass Invitational that opened the season.

In the A-10 championships, the Minutemen will try to capture their first title in the 13-team event since 2008. That task was made a little easier when defending champion Butler left the conference in the recent offseason.

With their heap of talent led by veteran Taylor, and experience against some of the top teams in the conference and in the country, UMass looks to make some noise down in Richmond, Va. this Saturday.

Minutewomen gaining momentum

Throughout the season, UMass women’s cross-country coach Julie LaFreniere has said that the focus of the team is to perform at their peak when it matters most. She was referring to the A-10 championships this upcoming Saturday.

The Minutewomen have come together at what seems to be the perfect time after they tied with Providence for first place this Friday at the CCSU mini-meet, even with an injured Rachel Hilliard (who is expected to return this weekend).

Freshman standout Christine Davis is coming off her best finish of the season and was named Atlantic 10 Performer of the Week and UMass Athlete of the Week as a result.

Although LaFreniere is enjoying the spotlight, she is looking out for the team’s cohesion on Saturday.

“There’s no one particular person for this team to do well,” LaFreniere said. “We need to have seven or eight people get out hard and maintain, and that’s what’ll make them successful, not one or two people. That’s not a team.”

LaFreniere pointed out that there was only a 22-second gap between their top five finishers on Friday, which has made her excited about the team’s ability to run together effectively.

With all the positive news, LaFreniere and the rest of the runners are excited to compete against the best in the A-10 after receiving a No. 8 seed in the preseason rankings.

“This is the best they’ve looked all season,” LaFreniere said. “They’ve worked really hard over the past three weeks and they’re feeling pretty excited.”

The highly anticipated race is one that the whole team has been focused on, and with a healthy Alexandra Purdue-Smithe, an emerging Davis and the consistency of Hillard, it seems that the team will continue its success against the conference’s best.

The men’s team will compete at 10 a.m. on Saturday, and the women will start at 10:50 a.m.

Frank Corona can be reached at fcorona@umass.edu.

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