Marquette cross-country coach Mike Nelson will head to New York with 20 of his best runners this weekend to compete at the Big East Cross-Country Championships.
This year’s conference championship marks the sixth with Nelson at the helm. Within that time period, the men and women have finished as high as seventh on both sides. A similar performance could be seen this weekend.
Not many of the athletes have seen the Van Cortlandt Park course, located in the Bronx, but senior Patrick Maag was able to check it out and run it over the summer.
“It’s probably going to be the toughest course you’ll ever run,” Maag said. “It will be 25 to 27 minutes of really hard running. I thought it would be tough to live up to the hype, but it will test you in every way.”
It will be tough for even the more experienced runners to set personal bests on such a hilly course. One hill in the course is even referred to as “Cemetery Hill” since there are nearby grave sites.
“I’ll keep (the hype) in mind, but at the same time you can’t let it scare you too much,” senior Connor Callahan said. “I’ll go out there and race how I normally race.”
One of the beauties of cross-country is that all participants are running the same course and nobody has an advantage.
Seniors Jack Hackett, Jack Senefeld, Maag and Callahan could be poised for their best race of the year. Injuries have been left behind, and the top four in the pack could be as close as 30 seconds apart.
On the women’s side, many of the freshmen will just be running their second 6,000-meter race ever. After the Bradley Classic, Nelson hopes to remind them not to go out too hard at the start of the race.
“I think we need to be a little bit more patient in that first mile; if they slowed down five seconds in the first mile that could lead them to running 15 seconds faster in the last mile,” Nelson said. “My general rule of thumb is that for every second you go out too hard, it will end up costing you three.”
Sophomore Elisia Meyle has not run in the team’s last two meets due to illness but will likely return this weekend. If she is fully healthy, she could be one of many surprise performances for the women. Running four freshmen is enough of a surprise for other conference teams trying to research Marquette’s runners.
Nelson doesn’t plan on channeling his inner Knute Rockne and giving a “Win One for the Gipper” speech, but he will discuss strategy and a race plan about some other teams. The focus will be more on running as a pack and competing against one another.
“This is the time when I will talk a little bit about some of the other teams, even still I hesitate to focus more on other teams,” Nelson said. “Our main competition is us. We can’t worry about other teams. We have to worry about our race. Run smart and run tough.”
Notre Dame and Syracuse are the favorites on the men’s side, while Providence, Georgetown and Villanova will likely duke it out in the women’s race. Wherever the team finishes, Nelson will be content if the team leaves it all at the finish line.
“My goal for the men and women is for them to have the best race that they can that day, and we’ll walk away happy with that,” Nelson said. “They have worked hard enough and put in enough miles that they have the maturity to know that they gave their best effort.”