The men’s and women’s cross country teams will race at a golf course in New Orleans on Thursday for the American Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships, which Tulane will host for the first time.
Temple University hosted the conference championship last year at Belmont Plateau in West Philadelphia. Both teams placed third to record their best finishes in program history in The American. This year, they’re hoping to win.
“We’ve never been to this course before,” Temple’s coach James Snyder said. “It’s on a golf course, so I’ve seen some videos of it and I have the course map and I have an idea of what it’s going to be like. But we don’t know what to expect from this course.”
Connecticut will look to defend its women’s title, while Tulsa’s men’s team looks to win its fifth straight conference title. Southern Methodist’s women’s team enters the conference meet ranked No. 3 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association South Central Region. Only top-5 nationally ranked University of Arkansas and the University of Texas, which received votes in the most recent coaches poll, are ranked higher than SMU.
The American’s women’s teams will start the day with a 6,000-meter race at 11 a.m. Then the men’s teams will run an 8,000-meter race at 11:50 a.m.
The Temple News asked several American Athletic Conference coaches about Thursday’s race and how they’re preparing their teams for the course.
The race will be at The Golf Course at Audubon Park, which has never been used for a cross country meet of this significance before, Tulane coach Eric Peterson said, making its debut special for the conference championships.
“It’s a beautiful park, and just like all of New Orleans it’s very flat and there aren’t many hills,” Peterson added.
Although Tulane has practiced on the course before, Peterson said none of the teams should have a serious advantage because the course is flat and fast.
“The fact that it’s new wasn’t really bad news to me, and I wasn’t really taken aback by it,” UConn women’s cross country coach J.J. Clark said. “I just said to myself, ‘We’ll go there like everyone else and see the course and compete.’ This is why you compete and run the race.”
Temple sophomore Lucy Jones said Snyder has prepared the Owls to run on several types of courses.
“He’s been able to base our training around the course that we’re going to compete on in New Orleans,” Jones said. “So I have a lot of confidence in myself and the girls that I’m going to be running with because we know what to expect.”
There is a 90 percent chance of rain on Thursday in New Orleans and 10 mph winds are expected, according to the National Weather Service as of Monday night. Because it’s a grass course, the course usually isn’t used when rain is in the forecast, Peterson said.
Peterson added that Audubon Park “should be a very fast track,” but rain could dictate a slower pace for the runners.
UConn and Temple placed second and third behind Tulsa in last year’s men’s race, and both teams kept most of their rosters intact.
On the women’s side, UConn will be looking to defend its 2017 title, when they beat second-place SMU by 29 points.
Redshirt sophomore Peter Lynch has been Tulsa’s top finisher in the team’s past two meets, most notably finishing third with a time of 24 minutes, 56.2 seconds at the Missouri Southern Stampede on Sept. 15.
Lynch will try to fill the void left after the team’s top runner Ben Preisner graduated last year. Preisner finished in second place at the conference meet two years ago and in third place last year.
UConn is bringing back the majority of their runners from last year, Clark said. His teams will look to take the championship for the men’s competition and win a second straight women’s title.
Clark added that he expects freshman Randi Burr to have a big role in the team’s attempt to repeat. Burr finished seventh at the team’s first meet of the year, the Minuteman Invitational, and she had a solid performance at the University at Buffalo Stampede Invitational with a time of 22:51.5. At the Princeton Invitational on Oct. 12, Burr placed 62nd with a time of 22:51.8.
UConn senior Haley Hasty and sophomore Mia Nahom could also contribute to their school’s title chances due to their experience and top finishes this year, Clark added.
Temple graduate student Louis Corgliano, sophomore Kristian Jensen and junior Zach Seiger are among the group of runners for Temple who are going to have a hand in trying to get the team’s first American Athletic Conference title.
In the team’s first meet, the Temple Invitational on Aug. 31 at Belmont Plateau, Corgliano finished first, while Seiger and Jensen finished in sixth and seventh place respectively. At the next meet, the Army Invitational on Sept. 24 in New York, Seiger and Corgliano finished in first and second respectively, and Jensen finished eighth. At the Princeton Invitational on Oct. 12 in New Jersey, Jensen finished fourth while Corgliano and Seiger finished back-to-back again in 12th and 13th.
Temple seniors Katie Leisher, junior Grace Moore and Jones are part of a deep group that will also try to capture the team’s first conference championship.
Jones and Leisher finished in third and fourth at the Temple Invitational. Moore did not race, but then went on to win the Army Invitational. Jones finished second, graduate student Kira von Ehren finished third and Leisher came in 11th.
“One of the strengths of our team this year that we were missing last year is that we have a lot of moving pieces,” Seiger said. “We’ve got guys who are finishing in fourth for us one meet and then finishing in first the next meet. It creates more of a competitive atmosphere every day at practice, and you have more confidence in yourself all the time as a result.”
Temple’s confidence elevated to a “completely different level” this year, Jones said. The team sees winning a title as more attainable this year than in 2017.
“There’s not just three or four of us who are really fit,” Jones said. “It’s one through nine who are all at an outstanding level of fitness. Not only are we all so fit, but we’re all so mentally prepared to make a name for ourselves at conferences.”