Both Marquette cross-country teams used their knowledge of Louisville’s E.P. “Tom” Sawyer course and extra team motivation to reach a seventh place finish for the men and ninth place finish for the women at the Big East Championships Saturday.
The seventh place finish out of 14 teams tied a program record for the men while the ninth place finish out of 16 teams is a step up from the women’s 10th place ending last season. Yet both teams were most excited about having each runner perform to his or her maximum ability, which was everyone’s No. 1 goal.
“Our coach told us that he wanted us to do the best we’ve ever done in the Big East competition,” redshirt sophomore Jack Senefeld said. “And we had the fastest top-five in Marquette history, with everyone (on the men’s team) coming in under 25 minutes.”
Senefeld, who finished 40th overall (24:38.6), was one of the first three Golden Eagles across the finish line – all three of whom set personal records.
The men were led by senior Blake Johnson’s 33rd place finish (24:28.6), while Senefeld and redshirt junior Jack Hackett’s 42nd place finish (24:40.9) set personal records in an eight-kilometer race.
Freshman Elisia Meyle led the women in 55th place (22:01.3). Redshirt juniors Courtney Kelly (22:22.4, 64th place) and Carly Windt (22:23.8, 66th place) also followed suit with personal records.
“Going into the meets, both physically and mentally, we were riding high,” coach Mike Nelson said. “We were ready to compete hard … I was happy with how both teams ran.”
Senefeld said that the Golden Eagles’ experience on the course helped them perform their best.
“Everything was familiar to us when we were practicing,” Senefeld said. “We knew every part of that course and that was mentally assuring. You knew the pain you were going to feel, and where you would feel it. You could ignore the terrain and focus on the competition.”
The competition featured some of the nation’s premier talent. The Villanova’s women’s team, a two-time defending national champion, took home the top conference prize again this year, along with the Villanova men.
Senefeld used the strong talent pool as motivation.
“The field went out fast as a whole, but it was good for us to duke it out with the top teams,” he said. “We wanted to work together throughout the race. Everyone wanted to push each other.”
Senefeld added that the men motivate each other with slight taps on the hip, a tradition started by Johnson and him last season.
The women took a more literal approach to encouragement. Meyle said each member was assigned to write an encouraging letter to another runner on the team.
“My note really motivated me throughout the week,” she said. “I didn’t have personal expectations for myself, I wanted to get a better time than in my last 6k.”
Letter or not, Nelson knew the type of performance Meyle would give.
“Elisia is a tough competitor, whether she was going to be number one or not I didn’t know,” Nelson said. “I knew that she would compete tough, and lay it all on the line. She ran a great time.”
The women’s team, which had previously stated that its goal was to finish in the top half, remains excited about its opportunities to continue improving this season. Nelson believes that the entire team is peaking at the right time.
“I feel that our women are on an upswing,” Nelson said. “And they’ll run their best race at the regional.”
According to Meyle, the team is gelling correctly and looks forward to the future.
“We knew we weren’t going to beat (the conference powerhouses),” Meyle said. “We did our best, and ran our race. Our team was looking to pass Cincinnati and Louisville, who we beat.”
Senefeld attributed both teams’ success to their strong mental toughness. Yet he made it clear that there was still more work to be done.
“At this point in time in the season it’s no excuses, no explanations,” Senefeld said. “It’s the championship season.”