Cross country continues ‘special year,’ preps for AAC meet

The Owls placed in the top two of their meet on Friday and will run in the American Athletic Conference’s race on Oct. 28.

Junior Katie Leisher runs during the Temple Invitational on Sept. 1 at Belmont Plateau. | MIKE NGUYEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Coach James Snyder treated Friday’s Joe Piane Invitational as a benchmark meet.

He wanted to see how his teams would fare against the American Athletic Conference rivals they’d face and if they’d stay consistent after winning their first two meets.

The men finished first in a field of 20 schools, and the women placed second in a field of 25 at the event hosted by the University of Notre Dame.

“The first day we started training together we knew this is going to be a very special year,” senior Katie Pinson said. “That is the first time since [I’ve] been here [that] the whole team felt that way.”

When the men won the Temple Invitational last month, they claimed their first meet victory since 2012. The women have already doubled their win total from last year.

The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association ranked the men’s team eighth in the Mid-Atlantic region on Monday. Two other schools in the American Athletic Conference — Connecticut and Tulsa — are ranked higher in their respective regions.

The women are ranked eighth in their region. Tulsa, which is ranked sixth in the Midwest, and Southern Methodist, which is ranked fourth in the South Central, are the only teams in The American ranked higher than the Owls in their regions.

The Owls want to reach the podium at The American’s championship meet on Oct. 28. The men finished fifth in 2016 and fourth in 2015. The women finished eighth in 2016.

The men will likely have to leapfrog Tulane in order to reach the podium. The Green Wave finished second at the conference meet last season.

Junior Johnathan Condly races during the Temple Invitational on Sept. 1 at Belmont Plateau. | MIKE NGUYEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple competed against Tulane in September at the Temple Invitational. The Owls had nine runners finish before Tulane senior Moses Aloiloi, who finished eighth in the conference championships last year. Green Wave junior Emmanuel Rotich, who placed third at The American’s championship, finished first.

On Friday, sophomore Grace Moore and junior Katie Leisher finished seventh and 17th respectively, both higher than Wichita State freshman Winny Koskei, who has been the Shockers’ leading runner. For the men, Steinsberger, sophomore Kevin Lapsansky, and freshmen Kristian Jensen and Anton Harrsen finished ahead of Aloiloi. Rotich finished in first place for the Green Wave.

“Tulane was on the podium last year, a spot we feel like we could have been in,” Snyder said. “We always compare our times with other [American Athletic Conference] schools, but there is nothing like actually running against them.”

Compared to last year, the balance between upperclassmen and freshmen in the program is closer to ideal, Snyder said. On the women’s team, Pinson is the lone senior to go with eight freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors. The men’s roster has no seniors, one graduate student and five each of freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

Pinson and junior Johnathan Condly both cite the balance as one of the reasons for this year’s success. In past years for the women’s team, former runner and current student assistant coach Blanca Fernandez earned high scores at meets, but they didn’t greatly improve the team’s overall performances, Pinson said.

“Our team is much deeper than previous years,” Pinson said. “Blanca was winning everything, but as a team we never gave her much help. Now every girl here is ready to work and contribute, and that is something I haven’t seen during my time here.”

Snyder said he altered his approach to the team’s training, and it made the team better. The runners had more time alone during their summers and used it to train harder than in previous years, Snyder said.

In past seasons, Snyder gave his team standing breaks in practices. Instead, the Owls are using a jogging rest, which keeps blood flowing through the body and makes the start of the next exercise less shocking to the body. It is a more aerobic-based approach to keep runners strong throughout the season, especially for the men who run in 8,000-meter races.

“We are incredibly strong right now,” Snyder said. “People are taking care of their work, we are as strong as we ever been and that is exactly where I want to be at the end of September if we want to make noise come championship season.”

“There is a different kind of excitement with this team than previous years,” Pinson said. “For the returners, the goals have seemed lofty in the past, and now this season, we know we can achieve those goals.”

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