Cross country heads to Conference Championships

On Saturday, the Marquette men’s and women’s cross country teams will travel to Jamesville Beach Co. Park, in Jamesville, N.Y., to compete in the 2010 Big East Cross Country Conference Championships.

The meet is hosted by Syracuse and will feature nearly all the Big East cross country teams: 14 on the men’s side and 16 on the women’s. The meet will feature six teams on each side that have been ranked in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) top 30 at one point in the season.

Though there will be heavy competition, Marquette seems poised for a good performance.

“I think both (men’s and women’s) teams are better than they were last year,” coach Mike Nelson said. “I think both teams can do better than they did last year. That being said, the Big East is very competitive this year; it may be the best it ever has been.

“We are definitely looking to finish in the top half on both sides. Hopefully, we can knock off a team or two.”

One of the major advantages Marquette holds over other teams is it has already competed against talented teams this year. At its two previous big meets, the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational and the Pre-Nationals Invitational, it faced numerous ranked teams on both sides.

At Wisconsin, the men ran against seven ranked teams and the women competed against five ranked teams, according to the USTFCCCA Poll. At the significantly larger Pre-Nationals, the men’s and women’s sides faced nine of the 30 nationally ranked teams.

Participating in these two meets definitely won’t hurt the teams this weekend, Nelson said.

“There are going to be some very good teams at the conference meet,” Nelson said. “There will also be more of a balance in talent, as opposed to Wisconsin and Pre-Nationals where everyone was good. Those two meets definitely helped prepare us for the competition we are going to see from the better teams in the Big East Conference.”

Senior Olivia Johnson agreed.

“After being at two meets where we faced great competition, there won’t be any surprises for us from this meet,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, this will also be one of her last meets. As a senior, she has consistently been the top runner for the Marquette women, finishing first in every meet she competed in this year.

“She’s been a great role model for the younger athletes,” Nelson said of Johnson. “She is the hardest worker every week at practice. She is just an overall extremely positive force to have on the team.”

This weekend’s competition holds deep meaning for Johnson.

“I have a lot of emotions about leaving and this being my last Big East meet,” Johnson said. “This is a great group of girls I’ve been running with, and I really hope I can put forth my best performance in the meet this weekend.”