UMass cross country competes over weekend

By Kaitlin Boyer

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Despite finishing 34th out of 40 teams, the Massachusetts women’s cross country team gained some valuable experience at the Paul Short Invitational on Friday at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

The young squad competed against 360 athletes and some of the nation’s top-ranked teams. This left UMass coach Julie LaFreniere confident in her team’s improvement.

“It was a good trip, great competition. It was good for me to see what else we have to work on and some of it is more mental,” LaFreniere said. “Physically, I think they can handle it. They just need to get rid of the little bit of hope that sits in the back of their brain sometimes.”

Sarah Barrett was the standout competitor in the gold division for UMass. She finished in first place at 22 minutes, 45 seconds. Her performance showed progress from the last two races, in which she previously finished in third and fourth place.

Teammates Rachel Hilliard and Carly Zinner finished right behind her in the second and third spots, with finish times of 22:52 and 22:53.

The Minutewomen also claimed the next four spots in the meet. With a time of 22:59, sophomore Katie Powers took fourth, while Mary Cole finished at 23:17 in fifth.   Danielle McNiff crossed the finish line at 23:18, claiming sixth, and coming in seventh at 23:20 was freshman Lizzy Blanchard.

Overall, the average time for the team was 22:57 and at the conclusion of the invitational, UMass obtained 891 points.

“Overall, I think they fell short of running to the best of their abilities,” LaFreniere said.

However, she did praise her runners for competing “in the highest level.”

Lafreniere believes the team’s strength so far has been pack running, stressing the importance of “getting five or six people within a very short gap.”

As UMass prepares for its next meet, the New England Championships in Westfield on Sunday, LaFreniere emphasized some major components her team must work on.

“Racing can be 90 percent mental,” LaFreneiere said. “So the mentality is a huge component and besides having more confidence in their own abilities and in each others abilities, they have to do it for each other.

“We need to learn something from every single race and take that with us to the next step. Basically, I want them to be very much aware of their opponents and racing their opponents,” LaFreneiere said. .

Men finish eighth in Oregon

The men’s team took a trip to Springfield, Ore., in the first West Coast meet in program history for the Dellinger Invitational on Saturday. The team finished eighth out of 10 teams.

UMass coach Ken O’Brien thought his team put up an exceptional fight and called the trip “a completely new experience for us. It’s a younger team and I was happy with our performances and how the team handled such a big meet on the road”.

The front-runners for the Minutemen included junior Antony Taylor, who finished second for the team with a time of 24:54, and Patrick McGowan who came in at 24:36. With 101 athletes in total, McGowan came in the 32nd spot and Taylor finished 42nd.

Senior John O’Shea hit the finish line at 25:19, followed by Paul Merriman at 25:40 and Jared Reddy at 25:58.

O’Brien was pleased with the team’s performance, considering the level of competition that was in the field, including nationally-ranked Brigham Young.

“Even though we finished in the second half of the races, I think we came away with a lot,” O’Brien said. “The course wasn’t the toughest part it was the opponents. We have to conquer both to be a good team”.

O’Brien was also impressed with the progression the younger runners made in this invitational.

“The younger kids come from high school, running a distance of about three miles, and when they get to college it’s five miles,” O’Brien said. “These kids are a little bit ahead of where I thought they might be at this time of the year. I am very happy with that and the way they competed under pressure this weekend in Oregon.”

The Minutemen next compete at the New England Championships at 2:15 p.m.

Kaitlin Boyer can be reached for comment at [email protected]