For the first time in his four seasons as Georgetown’s women’s cross country coach, Chris Miltenberg can go into the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships without having to crunch numbers to see if his team is in contention for an invitation to the NCAA national championships.
With perennial national powerhouses Villanova, Princeton and West Virginia all vying for the region’s two automatic invites, the Hoyas’ road to the NCAA national championships has traditionally been through the complex at-large invitational system.
To secure an at-large invitation, teams are awarded points for every team they beat during the regular season that went on to qualify for the national championships – either automatically or with an at-large bid. Since it’s not known who qualifies until after regionals, coaches often speculate, with complicated calculations and prognostications, how many points they have in line and what their chances are for qualifying.
Miltenberg is usually outfitted with a complicated spreadsheet at this time of the season, tracking the teams Georgetown has beaten and their chances to give the Hoyas those ever-valuable qualification points.
No need for that this year. Miltenberg will bring to Penn State, the hosts of this year’s regional championship, a team ranked fifth in the country and poised to take home either first or second place and the automatic invite that comes with it.
Coming off of their third consecutive Big East championship, the defending national champion No. 1 Villanova Wildcats are the only team that looks to be able to place in front of the Blue and Gray this coming weekend. No.19 Princeton and No. 28 Penn State have outside chances to knock off the Hoya women, but even if that’s the case, Georgetown is all but guaranteed an at-large bid due to its strong performance at pre-nationals and the Big East championships.
Georgetown’s depth gives the Hoyas another chance this weekend to upset Villanova, as they are admittedly outmatched up front but have a deeper lineup than the top-heavy Wildcats.
“Running with the No.1 team in [the country] in your conference, running with the No.1 team in your region, it gets you prepared for NCAAs,” Miltenberg said. “We know if we’re matching up well with ‘Nova then we’re matching up well with anybody in the country.”
Junior Emily Infeld and sophomore Emily Jones look to lead the way for the Hoyas, while sophomore Kirsten Kasper, freshman Maddie Chambers and graduate student Renee Tomlin have been running strong together all year long and could round out the Hoyas’ top-five runners. Junior Katie McCafferty, who caught the aforementioned trio late in the race at Big Easts, and freshman Joanna Stevens, who took a big step forward her last race out, give the Blue and Gray two more strong runners for insurance.
In the race for the individual regional title, the front pack of the race should be similar to the Big East championship, where the Wildcats’ redshirt junior Sheila Reid and senior Amanda Marino and the Hoyas’ Infeld battled until the last 500m, when Reid pulled away. At this same race a year ago, Reid finished first, Marino second and Infeld third. Jones figures to be with the leaders as well and should give the Blue and Gray another low scorer.
Although both Villanova and Georgetown are virtually guaranteed an invitation to the national championships and the team race isn’t quite as meaningful as last week’s conference championships, the Hoyas aren’t planning to approach the race any differently.
“Some people would say, `Oh, maybe you want to go and run conservative,’ but I feel like we’re going to get our last good, hard effort before NCAAs,” Miltenberg said. “We’re going to make sure that we go out and use it as another opportunity to practice all the things we do well in a race.”
On the men’s side, the Hoyas face a tall order in trying to continue their streak of six straight Mid-Atlantic regional championships.
In what has been an inconsistent and injury-riddled season, the Hoyas are coming off of one of the more disappointing team performances in recent years when they placed sixth at the Big East championships.
This weekend they’ll meet No. 17 Princeton, No.26 Penn State and No. 29 Villanova, who all look to break the Blue and Gray streak and secure automatic invitations to the national championships. The Nittany Lions and Wildcats are both coming off of strong performances at their conference championships, and the Tigers have been the top-ranked team in the conference all season.
Leading the Hoyas’ bid to repeat will be senior Ayalew Taye, who has another chance this weekend to compete for the individual title. Senior T.C. Lumbar hopes to bounce back from a disappointing race at Big Easts, and the jump to the 10K format for the regional and national championships should play in his favor. Redshirt junior James Grimes turned in his best performance of the year at the conference championships and will be counted on to run well again this weekend.
Redshirt freshmen Bobby Peavey and Andrew Springer will most likely round out the Hoyas’ top five. It will mark the duo’s first collegiate 10K cross country race, but the Hoyas will need both to overcome that if the Blue and Gray want a chance to compete for the title or one of the two automatic bids. Redshirt freshman Ben Furcht and sophomore Evan Bloomberg look to round out the Hoyas top seven.
While they still have a very inexperienced and at times inconsistent group, the Hoyas know they have the potential to succeed.
“If we run well I don’t think there’s anybody that’s just head and shoulders better than us,” Head Coach Pat Henner said.
Much will depend on Grimes, Peavey and Springer having good races, as the Hoyas are rather shorthanded going into the weekend. Freshman Tyler Anyan is nursing a sore Achilles and is looking doubtful to race. Redshirt sophomore Mark Dennin, who the Hoyas are hoping will be able to make his debut this weekend is also questionable.
Finally, the Hoyas will also be missing a top contributor and consistent performer in senior Alex Bean who will no longer be with the team this season.
“We regret that Alex Bean, will not be competing for the team the remainder of the season, but Alex and I agreed it was in everyone’s best interest for him to now focus on other more important goals,” Henner said.
While the team is focusing on getting back on track and simply executing the race plan, it remains to be seen if they have enough to score an invite to the national championships, provided they don’t finish first or second. They are lined up for very few points against automatically qualifying teams – Alabama, whom they beat at pre-nationals is probably the best hope for a point as they look to automatically advance from the south region. After that, the Hoyas will have to hope that they can pick up some points from teams such as Notre Dame, Minnesota and Dartmouth that could secure at-large invites.
Henner stressed not pressing for the bid but rather focusing on what the team needs to do to run well.
“We can’t be out there running thinking `Oh, we got to qualify for NCAAs,'” he said. “If we just focus on execution and then mental toughness and competing hard over the last part of the course then things will take care of themselves.”