As the fall sports are coming to an end, they are also preparing for the biggest stages of their seasons thus far and MU’s cross country team is no exception. These past, as well as upcoming, weeks provide many challenges for both the men and women’s teams as they have had to deal with minimal preparation for their meets due to Hurricane Sandy.
“I think that the biggest challenge for us is that we have not been together because of the storm,” head coach Joe Compagni stated. “We were excited and glad to get back to school but we are not yet in sync, maybe because of the storm or because of other reasons.”
The team recently competed in two grand scale events these past weekends. The first of which was the Northeast Conference Championships which hosted a total of 11 schools. There, the team showed their skills with highlights coming from sophomore Khari Bowen, freshman Domenick D’Agostino and fellow freshman Graham Huggins-Filozof for the men. Highlights on the women’s side were from seniors Amanda Eller and Kelsey Maher.
Bowen finished his 8k race with a time of 25:18.76 and crossed the finish line first for the Hawks. Shortly after was D’Agostino who posted a time of 25:48.53 followed by Huggins-Filozof who crossed at 25:57.23. These times could not earn the men a victory, but coach Compagni does not look at it as a defeat. “We were six points away, and six points in a cross country meet means there are three people stepping in front of three people,” Compagni said. “Our entire top five were freshmen and sophomores. Of course we would have liked to have those six points, but I was really proud of how they competed.” Bowen placed fourth, D’Agostino placed 12th, and Huggins-Filozof placed 14th. The three men received All-NEC honors.
For the women, Eller and Maher posted almost identically times with Eller surpassing Maher by .05 seconds landing them 10th and 11th for the overall race. Eller ran a 18:27.64, while Maher posted a 18:27:69 time. Compagni was very proud of the two women for receiving All-NEC honors. “Amanda and Kelsey are both amazing stories because they were not heavily recruited in high school but now they’re one of the tops in our conference.”
Overall, the men placed second in the NEC Championships behind Central Connecticut while the women came in fourth. While it may appear the women did not perform as well as the men, they have placed in the top four eleven consecutive years, proving they are very consistent.
With this race finished, the team next had to prepare for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships at Penn State. The men competed against 24 other schools while the women competed against 31. Although this number seems rather large, Compagni explains that not everyone gets the chance to race. “Every team can run their top seven people,” Compagni said. “In our region alone, the top four men and women’s teams are ranked top 25 in the country.” Therefore, a lot of highly qualified runners competed against Monmouth at the Regional Championships and being off for over a week did not favor the team.
The men participated in a 10k while the women competed in a 6k. Compagni chose to run three freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and one senior in the race. While many may have been weary to put their fate into three freshmen’s hands, Compagni could not have been more eager to. “Our freshmen class has been outstanding and they have really helped bring our team to a new level,” he stated.
The first MU runner to cross the finish line was rising star Huggins-Filozof as he recorded a 32:48 time and came in 93rd overall. Following him was Bowen with a 33:16 time finishing 105th overall. Next to cross was sophomore Alex Leight with 33:23, senior Sean Hartnett with 34:00 and freshman Connor Fuller with 34:09. Shortly after came junior Pat Ryan finishing with a time of 34:13 and D’Agostino, as he posted a time of 34:19. The men placed 19th overall for the second year in a row. Coach Compagni notes that they were hoping for a top 15 finish but understands they did miss a crucial week of practice directly before the race.
Sophomore runner, Alex Hershman, acknowledges that the team did not do as well as they would have liked, but also does not believe this race accurately reflects their season thus far. “The Mid-Atlantic Region is filled with strong competition between the likes of Georgetown, Villanova, Princeton and many other good programs.” Hershman goes on, “We were aiming for a top 15 finish since we finished 19th last year at regionals and our team has improved drastically since then. [Finishing 19th again] was pretty dissappointing but it doesnt take away what we have accomplished so far.”
In the women’s case, Compagni relied on four seniors and two juniors to bring home the trophy. As expected, Eller and Maher were the first to finish for MU. Eller placed 69th overall with a time of 22:20. With her time, she has been placed in the top ten finishers in MU’s history at the NCAA Regionals. Following closely behind was Maher who finished 112th overall at 23:06. Next was senior Emily MacEwen with a time of 23:33. Following MacEwen were juniors Mackenzie Roche and Marissa Felicetti finishing at 23:56 and 24:17. Senior Stacy Lepes was the last MU woman to cross the line with a 25:05 time. With these times, the women finished 20th overall.
Putting this race behind them, the team now preps for this weekend’s Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference and the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America Championships at Van Cortlandt Park in New York. The men will be racing five miles and the women will be running a 5k. While the team is heading north in this frigid month of November, Compagni does not fear the weather as a problem. “We understand that you run in the heat in September and maybe even the snow in November. I think that’s one of the great things about cross country, is dealing with the elements and understanding how to compete in them,” Compagni said.
This race proves more than just an ordinary competition; it will showcase how well the team is able to bounce back and if they can find unity after Hurricane Sandy disrupted their season. Compagni said, “These kind of races are how we define our season. This race is our chance to put a final stamp on season.”
Hershman agrees with his coach but also thinks that the team will be inspired by the fact they will have a chance to redeem themselves. “We will get a shot at teams that beat us at regionals,” Hershman said. With that said, the men will take part in a five mile race while the women will be running a 5k this Saturday, November 17, at Van Cortlandt Park where they hope to end their season strong.