Former All-American Blanca Fernandez returned to Main Campus earlier this semester to work as a student assistant coach while she trains for the Tokyo Olympics.
Coach James Snyder said he has seen practice times recently that remind him of Fernandez’s when she ran for Temple in 2015. Snyder said he sees “times only Blanca would run” from multiple runners.
Temple will host the 2017 American Athletic Conference cross country championship at Belmont Plateau on Saturday. It’s the first conference championship meet the Owls will host since the Atlantic 10 Conference race in 2012. The Temple Student-Athlete Advisory Committee organized buses to bring students to the meet in Fairmount Park this year, Snyder said.
“Everyone, including me, has a high confidence and excitement level heading into this meet,” Snyder said. “Now it is time to make history.”
Tulsa has won the last three men’s conference championships, while Southern Methodist will defend its 2016 women’s title. Temple’s men placed fifth last season, and the women finished eighth.
The Temple News talked to coaches in The American about Temple, how they prepared for their teams for the course at Belmont Plateau and what challenges await them.
Belmont Plateau has one of the most challenging courses in college, conference coaches said. The course has hills and a section of woods that “can be tricky,” Snyder said.
Snyder said the Owls will have an advantage because of their experience running through the hills and wooded portion of the course. They ran at Belmont Plateau at the Temple Invitational on Sept. 1 and the Jack St. Clair Memorial Invitational on Oct. 7 and hold practices there.
“This is one of the harder courses at the college level that we’ve ran on plenty of times before, but the other teams are still going to show up with the goal of winning the conference just like us,” Snyder said.
When Tulane ran in the Temple Invitational, coach Eric Peterson took it as an opportunity to preview the conference meet.
“The Belmont course is one of the more challenging courses due to the hills it has,” Peterson said. “It is a very physically challenging course. I wanted my runners to have an idea of what they will be dealing with come the conference championship.”
Tulane and East Carolina were the only teams in The American besides Temple to compete in the invitational. Temple’s men won the meet with a score of 29, East Carolina placed second with 56 and Tulane came in third with 69. Temple also won the women’s race, scoring lower than the Pirates and Green Wave.
Tulsa coach Steve Gulley said competing in Philadelphia will be a challenge for his runners because of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s humid environment. The Golden Hurricane sometimes cannot practice as intensely as teams in other climates due to heat.
Southern Methodist coach Cathy Casey said the Mustangs are preparing for the conference championship by practicing on a course similar to the one at Belmont Plateau.
“We have one hill in Dallas,” Casey said. “We know this course is going to be challenging, so we are going to make sure we keep running up and down that hill to prepare for this course.”
Gulley said he expects the men’s race to be very competitive. Tulsa had seven top-15 runners in 2016’s conference championship.
Five of those runners will compete in this year’s race, including senior Ben Preisner. He took second in 2016.
“The course has a big influence in this race,” Gulley said. “Runners’ times seem to be slower at Belmont, and that should help make this a close race. I am definitely expecting Temple to come out strong at home, especially since they are in the midst of a historic year.”
Snyder said graduate student Marc Steinsberger and freshman Kristian Jensen have been running faster at practices, especially during sessions at Belmont Plateau. The two held hands as they crossed the finish line second and third at the Temple Invitational. Steinsberger placed ninth at the conference meet last season.
Sophomore Grace Moore has been the Owls’ top finisher in her past three races, including a first-place finish at the Rider Invitational on Sept. 15. Freshman Helene Gottlieb has been impressive during the last two weeks, Snyder said, and he expects her to be “highly competitive” at the championship race.
Peterson said he expects junior Emmanuel Rotich to compete for the men’s individual title. Rotich finished third at the conference championship in 2016 for Tulane. He has three first-place finishes this season.
Junior Joshua Cheruyot and senior Moses Aloiloi could also help Tulane reach the podium, Peterson said.
Wichita State coach Kirk Hunter said the conference championship will be one of the most challenging meets for his team this season. He is eager to see how freshman Winny Koskei performs. Koskei has seven top-10 finishes in her career.
Wichita State, which is in its first year in The American, competed against Temple and Tulane for the first time in 2017 at the Joe Piane Invitational at the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 29. Both of Temple’s squads had top-two finishes.
Wichita State’s women placed 12th out of 25 schools. The men’s team didn’t run in the race.
Hunter anticipates Temple will perform like it did at the Joe Piane Invitational at Belmont Plateau on Saturday.
“Temple is looking great this year,” Hunter said. “The way they ran at Notre Dame and really the whole season, I am expecting to see a confident and talented team on their home course.”