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Marquette Cross-Country: Big East presents biggest challenge

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The Marquette cross-country teams return to the E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky., for the Big East Championships Saturday, looking to use an earlier race at the same course to their competitive advantage.

On Oct. 1, both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams competed in the Greater Louisville Classic at the same park. They believe the experience will yield dividends come Saturday.

“I think seeing the course has helped us a lot,” sophomore Hannah Frett said. “We know where the start and finish lines are, and although it was only a 5k last time and it’s 6k this time, we still know the course and it will help us.”

The conference championship represents the first in a successive string of important races for the Golden Eagles, followed by the NCAA Great Lakes Regional and the NCAA National Championships.

Since cross-country is scored by adding the finishing totals of each school’s top-five runners, the lower the team’s total the better.

Junior Patrick Maag expects the nine men’s runners selected to answer the call of their coach.

“Earlier in the week, coach (Mike Nelson) sent out an email with a video of our lowest point total at a conference race,” Maag said. “I think that we can do even better than that this year. There are good teams in the Big East, but we’re shooting for our lowest point total ever.”

Nelson, however, believes it is important for his runners to “run within” themselves.

“Going out way too hard and leaving yourself vulnerable is not a good plan,” he said. “It would be pretty silly, and it’s one thing we’re working on. We just want to focus on running our own race, internally.”

Nelson said the experience of seniors Blake Johnson and Peter Bolgert allows the men to be more successful pacing themselves during the race.

The women’s team is amid a struggle over leadership, but Nelson believes the inter-competition allows the team to push itself harder in important races.

“Honestly, I have no idea who will lead the women’s team,” Nelson said. “We have several athletes who have come up in later races, and athletes who have been running well all year. Good inter-team competition helps at the meets though. There’s a very good chance that someone new could lead us this weekend.”

Yet Nelson concluded that he is confident in his female seniors, coming off their best race last weekend, to lead the women successfully.

“We know we have the powerhouse cross-country teams in the Big East. But we believe that we can be in the top half of the conference,” Frett said.

Last year the women finished 10th while the men placed eighth at Syracuse’s Jamesville Beach Park.

But Maag believes this year can be different.

“I’m excited for this weekend because I have the opportunity to knock off my (personal record),” he said. “And if we maximize our potential in this race and perform better and we can be around the top.”

If Maag needed more motivation, he’s assured to hear at least one encouraging voice from an opposing school: his sister.

Annamarie Maag, a freshman at Georgetown, will compete Saturday. Patrick – who has raced against his older brother Peter, a senior at Princeton – is excited to see his younger sister.

“There will be little bit of trash talk, but it’ll be mostly friendly,” he said with a laugh. “I wish the best for her. And I hope she does the same for me.”

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