Cross Country: More than qualifying in questionFriday, November 13 2009 - NCAA Midwest Regional
Cross Country: More than qualifying in question
Both teams brace for ranked, strong teams in postseason race
Kevin Murphy/Staff Reporter
Issue date: 11/13/09 Section: Sports
While the Panthers aren't likely to qualify for the NCAA Championships, each team and every Panther has taken stock into the meet this Saturday.
For Eastern head cross country coach Geoff Masanet, it's the reputation of the program, which includes alumni, recruits and the university. The men's team is coming off a second-place finish at the Ohio Valley Conference Championships, and women's team finished third at the OVCs.
"It's the championship of our region," Masanet said. "This is how we stack up in the real world in cross country in our region. There's not a lot of whole room to hide."
The two top teams from each of the nine regionals will qualify for the NCAA Championships, which will be held Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind. Thirteen other teams will be at-large selections chosen by the NCAA Division I track and field and cross country sub-committee. In addition, 36 individuals will automatically qualify for the championship by being one of the top four regional finishers not on an advancing team. Two additional individuals are at-large selections by the sub-committee.
While qualifying is the main purpose of the regional, the Panthers don't see it that way.
"It is a big setup for down the road," said red-shirt freshman Olivia Klaus.
Senior Erin O'Grady recognized this, too, and said the teams' regional performance not only affects the upcoming indoor track season, but also, the possibility of teams down the road. She also said a good performance could set up a chance for Eastern to qualify for an at-large selection or being in an automatic position and take the program to the next level.
To do that, the women's team will be competing against 33 teams, and the men's team will compete against 31 teams at the Missouri State Cross Country Facility with races starting noon for the men (10,000-kilometer race) and 1:15 p.m. for the women (6,000-kilometer race). Missouri State is one of nine regional hosts this weekend.
Masanet said the importance of this meet is starting strong off the line. He said O'Grady was able to do that successfully at the OVC Championships, but the men's team didn't. He also said the teams didn't come out strong at the NCAA Midwest Regional last season.
"We didn't get out," Masanet said. "We weren't competitive."
O'Grady, competing in her final collegiate cross country race Saturday, showed her strength with a sixth-place finish at the OVC Championships, the best finish of her career at conference. She started her collegiate career as the OVC Freshman of the Year.
"I probably will go out a little faster," said O'Grady of her race plan for Saturday. "I need to go out there, and hopefully, the same thing will happen like conference."
O'Grady should be bolstered by Klaus, who finished eighth at the conference meet.
Klaus, however, has been dealing with a cold for the past three weeks and that could limit her potential at the meet.
Klaus said she's been trying to rest the entire week and won't really know how she feels until Saturday.
If Klaus is healthy, she gives the women's team a chance at a good team finish.
"I'm holding my breath on that a little bit," said Masanet of Klaus' health status. "If you can have one or two people punch their nose in the top 50, it's a huge help to your team score."
For the men's team, Masanet said the Panthers must focus on getting that start off the line.
"In the past two weeks, they have not just followed the basic fundamental plan that they're easily capable of following," Masanet said. "It's basically boiling down to decision making early in the race. We have to execute early. We just got to get together and stay together."
The men's team realizes what they must do to be successful.
"We got out kind of slow at conference and that hurt us," said red-shirt sophomore Brad LaRocque. "No matter what, the pace is going to settle. Getting out means the race for us."
The men's team has had a revolving door for the No. 1 runner including LaRocque, senior Aaron Iaun and sophomore Matt Feldhake. Senior David Holm also has the chance to be the team's No. 1 runner.
The men's team has a strong pack and has noticed this in practice everyday this season. Masanet said the problem is the men's team race plan doesn't unfold during meets, at least, in the past two meets.
"We don't do what we're supposed to do on race day," Masanet said.
Iaun is trying to think of his final race as a hard practice and to come out strong.
"I struggled with that at OVCs, and it cost me a little bit," Iaun said. "It's a chance to go out on a high note. I think I got another good race in me."
Kevin Murphy can be reached at 581-7944 or