Marquette Cross-Country: Teams have chance to prove their worth

As the final competition before the Big East Championships on Oct. 29, the Marquette men’s cross-country team wants to use Friday’s Adidas Invitational, hosted by Wisconsin-Madison, to see where it ranks among the country’s best.

Unlike any race of its kind, the Adidas Invitational is essentially a preview of the NCAA Championships. Of the 40 teams competing, 20 are ranked among the NCAA’s top 30 squads, and an estimated 10,000 people will be in attendance.

Coach Mike Nelson went even further, stating that outside of the national championships, “this could be the most competitive field ever.” But he also stressed he believes the men are capable of providing a good showing and adequately preparing for the upcoming Big East championship.

“Running our own race will be tough in this race, but it will make it easier to apply this strategy at the conference or regional championships. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Nelson said.

Some would be rattled, but senior Blake Johnson has experienced nearly everything on the course. Even more importantly, his coach believes Johnson is finally fulfilling his potential.

“Blake has had some steady progress this year,” Nelson said. “He’s been a consistent front-runner for us and developed some confidence in his racing style. I’m very happy he’s been a real team leader.”

On the other hand, the women’s team has had trouble finding an individual leader.  That search continues this weekend as the women travel to Peoria, Ill., for the Bradley Classic.

Freshman Kenzie Vicker will look to continue her successful season.

She led the women’s team at the National Catholic Championship at Notre Dame on Sept. 16 and came in second at the Badger Open on Sept. 9.

“I just want to do my best and work hard,” she said. “I think a lot of my teammates are doing better, and we’re really on the right path lately.”

Nelson is determined to keep the pressure off of Vicker, instead looking to his senior women to lead the way.  However, he cannot deny the impact that the young runner has made.

“The luxury a freshman has is that you’re not defined by an expectation of previous years,” he said.  “Every race she has nothing to lose, and that’s a good thing.

“Kenzie is tough, and she doesn’t like to lose. And that is what makes her good,” Nelson said.

Vicker said she can take the pressure.

“I just try to stay positive throughout the whole race, and try to stay tough throughout the race,” she said. “I just like running down the competitors, staying away from negativity.”

Nelson refrained on outlining specific expectations for the women this weekend, but his greater hope is that they will use this opportunity to prepare for the conference championships.

“The women have made continual progress throughout the year, and I believe that pattern will continue,” he said. “I don’t know where we’ll finish. But that’s a good thing. My only expectation is that our girls run the best race they’re capable of.”