Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass cross country teams look to finish strong

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(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts men’s and women’s cross country teams will be competing at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championship meet on a familiar course on Friday in Franklin Park, Boston. Trying to build off strong performances at the Atlantic 10 conference championship, both teams will be facing a much larger and stronger field of competition.

The men’s race will include 38 teams, featuring four of the top 30 ranked schools in the country, including second ranked Syracuse who will be the favorite. With a pool of 40, the women’s meet will have three top 30 teams as well, the highest being fourth-ranked Providence.

Despite a strong performance at the A-10’s where they finished second only to St. Joseph’s, the Minutemen are still not ranked in the top 15 of the region; therefore not much is expected of them.

This is familiar territory for UMass after the conference meet. Senior Ben Groleau led the way with a historical performance for the program, finishing second. He will need a similar performance on Friday, as will the rest of the team.

“Avoiding a let down after a big meet is something that you build into your schedule at the beginning of the season,” coach Ken O’Brien said, “and I still don’t think we’ve run our best race yet.”

If that is true, though it is an outside chance, the Minutemen have a real possibility of making it to NCAA nationals this year. Typically when a team finishes first or second in their conference, they start to become part of the qualifying conversation. The challenge is that there are several conferences within the region.

“In order for that to happen all seven of our runners will have to fire on all cylinders and we would need help from other teams as well,” O’Brien said. “It would be gravy for us to make it anyway, but it would be a nice way to end the season.”

Along with Groleau, UMass will have Blake Croteau, Paolo Tavares, Dan Sheldon, Tyler Hagen, Sam Conway and Jay McMahon competing on Friday. All runners are capable of putting in that type of performance, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can put these performances together in the same race.

31 teams will be going to nationals, with two from each of the nine regions guaranteed a spot.  The other 13 will be at-large bids that the Minutemen might have a chance at, with the Northeast region usually getting the larger share of those bids.

Women look to finish the season among the region’s elite teams

The Minutewomen are going into Friday’s meet with the motivation that the rest of the region has still not seen them at their best. The team is coming off a fourth place finish based on a technicality after having scored the same amount of points as the third place team.

“On the A-10 website we’re tied for third, on the scoreboard we were tied for third, and in out hearts and minds we were tied for third. We’re not letting a technicality bother us,” coach Julie LaFreniere said.

The team also raced with one of their top five runners – freshman Alexa Livingstone – still suffering from a sinus infection. LaFreniere believes she is feeling better and should be ready come race time. However, many other runners stepped up and gave inspiring performances at the A-10’s and will look to build off that.

“I’ve been telling my team all season long that their two biggest races are A-10’s and regionals. We can’t forget about regionals, and there is no reason they can’t race better at regionals than they did at the A-10’s,” LaFreniere said.

UMass will be sending seven women to Boston. Heather MacLean and Carly Zinner – both all-conference runners – will need to put up an even better performance this week as they lead the team. Livingstone, Colleen Sands, Diedre Martyn, Natalie Mako and Molly McMahon will also need to provide the depth necessary for the Minutewomen to perform well.

“Our goal is to bring our team into the regional rankings. In order to do that our team needs to crack the top 15, and they will need to have the race of their lives to do that,” LaFreniere said. “We will have strong competition, and that always makes you run better.”

This will be the final race of the season for the women, while the men will go on to finish at IC4A Championship if they don’t receive a bid to nationals.

Nick Souza can be reached at [email protected]

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