Ever since her days as a runner at Central High School in Philadelphia, Temple senior Rayna Kratchman has known Belmont Plateau as her home course.
“There’s not much area beside the concrete of Broad Street to run on here,” Kratchman said. “Going to Belmont, it might be a little bit of a drive, but it’s definitely worth it and we’re able to have a lot better quality of practice.”
About a four-mile drive across the Schuylkill River, Belmont Plateau at Fairmount Park is the main training course for the men’s and women’s cross country teams at Temple. While coach Adam Bray and his team do sometimes utilize the on-campus track near Geasey Field along with the training facilities of Pearson and McGonigle halls, simulating the terrain of a cross country course many times requires them to travel off campus via team vans.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kratchman said. “It’s just kind of what we’ve been used to.”
Despite it being the norm for the program during the past several seasons, the ride to and from campus sometimes causes difficulties for its student-athletes.
“Absolutely [it can cause problems],” junior Will Kellar said. “For some of the team, people have classes at 5:30 [p.m.], and we have practice at 3 [p.m.], so it’s so hard to get back in time, especially with a 25-minute commute.”
Besides Belmont, Temple has also practiced at various parks in Philadelphia, like Valley Green and Fairmount East. Kelly Drive has also been used, which at Bray’s estimate of a mile and a half away from campus, is close enough for the teams to run to.
“We have practice at the same time every day,” Bray said. “Sometimes kids have class conflicts, and they obviously have to go to class. They just have to work around it. Some people have to work out a little earlier or work out a little later, it’s just something they have to do. That’s the same at every college. Every university runs into those problems.”
Temple is not alone. Other Atlantic 10 Conference teams such as Dayton, Butler and UNC Charlotte all travel to practice facilities off campus. St. Joseph’s University and La Salle, which competed against Temple earlier this year in the Friend Invitational, also practice at Belmont.
Other schools in the conference, however, are placed in more convenient locations. Saint Louis practices at Forest Park, just a short jog from its campus. Xavier almost exclusively uses grass parks close-by, with only occasional off-campus van trips. The rural setting of Rhode Island gives it many accessible options on campus, again, with only occasional off-campus visits. The mountainous and hilly landscape of Massachusetts provides the team with several options as well.
But for whatever problems or hassles that stem from a lack of on-campus options for cross country training, the traveling may finally pay off – this weekend at least. The Owls will host the rest of the conference this Saturday, Oct. 27, as Belmont Plateau will be the site of the 2012 A-10 Championships.
“It’s a big process, to host them,” track & field coach Eric Mobley said. “We bid for it about three or four years ago, so we were up in the rotation. We bid this year because we thought it would be good for the program and to have the meet at home.”
Home-field advantage is not something Temple cross country has been used to since the program was brought back in 2006. In that time, the university has never hosted an event with more than three teams participating.
“I think it’s going to be to our benefit to race there,” Kellar said. “We’ve been training there, pretty much all semester. And not only have we been training there, but it’s so close. It’s really convenient for us to not have to travel half way across the state or up and down the East Coast to get to the meet.”
Bray said he hopes the advantage will be “huge.”
“I expect that it’s going to be pretty muddy and sloppy,” Bray said. “It’s been wet the past couple weeks, and there have been high school meets there so it’s being run on. That’s another advantage that goes in our favor because we know what the course has to offer, and we’ve done workouts on it.”
The A-10 Championships only allow 10 runners per team to compete. The men’s roster, which features 10 runners, won’t be an issue. The women’s squad, however, has 18 on its roster, meaning some will not get the chance to participate.
“Some kids are working out really well, and they just can’t put it together in the race,” Bray said. “So sometimes that makes for a tough decision. Ultimately, I’m going to put people out there who I feel are going to give us the best opportunity to be successful. And if I know certain individuals have worked really hard and they put in the time and it’s a bubble kid, I’m going to give [he or she] an opportunity. That’s the way I work.”
While the fact that Temple will be hosting its final A-10 Championships before moving to the Big East Conference next year might seem like an orchestrated effort, Mobley said it is nothing but mere coincidence. He said the bid was put in before the transition was announced. Still, for Kratchman, she said the team’s last A-10 Championships at Belmont is giving everyone even more motivation to do well.
“I think everyone is pumped,” Kratchman said. “I definitely know that everyone is looking forward to it. This was my course in high school. This is my home course. Being a senior, I’m ready to give whatever I have left and leave it all on the course and I think we’re all just ready to show the Atlantic 10 Conference that we belong here and we’re moving on to the Big East and that we can handle the competition.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.