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UMass cross country teams ready for beginning of championship season Saturday

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

The championship season is set to start this weekend for the Massachusetts men and women’s cross country teams, as they head to Franklin Park in Boston for the second time in the past three weeks for the New England Championship meet.

The meet represents a conference that is older than the regions set by the NCAA. It’s also unique that it includes teams from all three collegiate divisions, and with 42 schools in close proximity, the meet is most feasible in New England.

The Minutemen have shown impressive strides early in the season with many individuals stepping up. However, the final scores have not necessarily shown yet.

UMass coach Ken O’Brien said he’d like to see that change starting this weekend.

“The coaches and the athletes are noticing the improvements performance-wise, but I think it could really add to the momentum of the team if the scoring finishes became a lot lower,” O’Brien said.

On paper, the team’s scoring for the Minutemen has not been reflective of their past two performances against very stiff competition. This meet provides an opportunity for them to see the results on the scoring lines.

The New England Championship is the first meet to open the championship season this fall and will serve as a springboard for UMass heading into Atlantic 10 competition. It also comes with a three-week layoff, as the conference championship meet will not be held until the end of the month. Coming at the conclusion of a gauntlet of meets each week, O’Brien loves the way this year’s schedule has played out.

“The runners could use a proper break at this point of the season, physically but especially mentally,” he said. “This meet is helpful for our team if it falls at the right time on our calendar, and this year it has.”

Minutewomen on road to recovery

The UMass women’s team will also be competing in the same historic venue this weekend. However, the team still has issues in terms of health lingering from the previous meet.

Freshman Alexa Livingstone and senior Carly Zinner will most likely not compete this Saturday due to illnesses, according to coach Julie LaFreniere. She said it is better to rest the pair of runners rather than having them perform not at their full health.

“At this point in the season it is not worth it to run our athletes if they are sick and risk setting their health back,” LaFreniere said. “I also don’t want them dwelling on a poor performance because of their sickness heading into A-10s.”

While other Minutewomen were ill last weekend, they have recovered and will race on Saturday. However, Zinner and Livingstone – who competed in last weekend’s competition – developed their illness at a later time.

While Zinner and Livingstone are integral members of the team, there are still other runners in the pack that LaFreniere expects a lot out of them.

“It’s time for some of these younger runners to step up and fill the void we’ll be missing. As for those who ran at this course two weeks ago, I would like to see them run about 30 to 40 seconds faster,” she said.

LaFreniere admits that the illnesses they have dealt with, while not serious, have forced her to dial down the intensity of the team’s training.  She doesn’t believe in training a sick athlete hard as it will only extend the period in which they will be sick.

The Minutewomen look forward to an upcoming long layoff following a rough stretch due to sickness. While they do have a 3000-meter mini meet on the schedule in that time, LaFerniere will not be sending any varsity runners.

The Minutewomen kick off the New England Championship at noon Saturday, while men’s teams begin their competition at 2 p.m.

Nick Souza can be reached at njsouza@umass.edu.

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