The lush, green grass should be gleaming Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C., during the University of North Carolina’s Great American Classic.
Yet, for the Running Rams of CSU’s men’s and women’s cross country teams, the race will be anything but a walk in the park.
Teams from around the nation will bring their top athletes to Chapel Hill in an attempt to bolster their point total for an at-large bid to the NCAA National Championship meet in November.
According to the men’s and women’s cross country polls, conducted by the United States Cross Country Coaches Association, both of CSU’s teams will roll into Chapel Hill with a strong No. 17 ranking – a number head coach Del Hessel said can be improved.
“If we beat people ranked over us it will be huge in the point standings,” Hessel said. “We need to get points in these big races to move ourselves closer to nationals.”
Hessel addressed athletes from both teams Tuesday in a closed-door meeting to emphasize upon them the importance of racing fast and relaxed in the teams’ major upcoming races.
“The harder it gets, the more you have to relax,” Hessel said. “The more you relax, the more you have to focus on running faster.”
With the women’s team facing 12 nationally ranked teams including the nation’s top three – BYU, Georgetown and Stanford – Hessel said the field should be tough and beneficial.
“It’s important for us to race against teams from outside our region,” he said. “We will face a lot of these same teams again at nationals.”
Senior Meg Larson agreed with Hessel’s evaluation of the competition.
“(Facing tough competition) is good for us,” Larson said. “We need to see high caliber athletes out there. Sometimes we only focus on ourselves and the competition within our team, but we need to see other talented teams before nationals.”
Apart from Larson, the Rams’ women’s team features seniors Jen Kintzley, Kim Leal, Kim Watson and Mary Ridder; junior Katie Yemm; and sophomore Colleen Blair, Hessel said.
He added that the injuries that hampered the team earlier in the season appear to be subsiding.
“We are in really good shape,” he said. “They are no major concerns on the men’s team or the women’s team.”
Though not facing as many nationally ranked teams, CSU’s men’s team will still be up against tough runners, Hessel said.
Six nationally ranked teams will compete in the men’s race, while a lot of other quality teams look to gain some points in the standings.
With No. 5 Northern Arizona, No. 7 North Carolina State and No. 8 Georgetown making up part of the field, junior Bill Michel said the Rams have their work cut out for them.
“I think we are definitely a top 15 team,” Michel said. “We should be in the mix with these guys.”
Michel added that finishing among the top two or three teams would be an achievable goal for the Rams.
“If we stay up in front and keep a good pack time together, we should be able to finish strong,” Michel said.
Running alongside Michel for the Rams on Friday will be seniors Reagan Robb, Ammon Larsen and Austin Vigil; juniors Dylan Olchin and Mike Nicks; and sophomore Josh Glabb.
With both teams training hard and running strong, Hessel said that they are capable of putting together a strong race.
“We need to toe the line with confidence, race with confidence and finish with confidence,” he said. “If we do that, we are going to beat some people.”