Cross Country: Ohio preps for MAC Championships

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As the leaves begin to change their colors and fall from the trees, and familiar chill of fall settles in, a sense of optimism still lingers on campus. Yes, the inevitable grip of winter will soon arrive, bringing with it cold temperatures, but things are just heating up for Ohio Cross Country as both the men’s and women’s team prepare for their biggest meet of the season: the MAC Championships.

The Bobcats are preparing to face their familiar conference foes in the ultimate showdown, as this meet will determine conference bragging rights. It’s a long, difficult off-season for the teams who don’t hoist a championship trophy over their head in Muncie.

It won’t be an easy task for either side, as the other schools in the conference are revving themselves up for this week. The early favorite on the men’s side is Central Michigan, after the Chippewas finished tops among all MAC schools at last week’s Pre-Nationals meet in Terre-Haute, Ind. They also have a very competitive Toledo side to contend with, as the Rockets finished only one spot behind Ohio in the Pre-National meet. Ohio head coach Clay Calkins said that he hopes the men’s team will have a good solid race.

“On the guys side, we’re down a little bit this year, but we do have a couple frontrunners with Tyler Ames, Noah Howkins, Chase Robinson," Calkins said. "Those guys have been consistently in our top three. Tyler Blair has been stepping up, and Dan O’Brien has done a good job in the off-season. If we can finish in the top five in the conference, that would be a great day for the men. It’s going to be a tall order to do that, but that’s our goal at hand right now.”

Sophomore Matt Michno said he expects the team to do well.

“We’ve been running pretty decently all year," Michno said. "But we haven’t really had a meet where we’ve put absolutely everything together and had everyone run the race they were supposed to, but we feel pretty confident that we can make an attack towards the top three or four teams overall."

He also said that leading up to the week of the race, the team will start running shorter, quicker workouts in order to rest up and prepare for the meet. They will also cut out their double runs.

Ames added that every race this season has been leading up to this, so he expects the squad to have it’s best race yet.

“As far as racing goes, we want to try to stay consistent with our race plan," Ames said. "It’s been working pretty well for us this year, and we ran a good race at All-Ohio’s and a good race at the home meet. We looked good this weekend, so we definitely don’t want to be changing anything drastic."

The men’s team sets off on their quest for a MAC Championship on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. in Muncie, Ind. on the campus of Ball State University.

On the women’s side, the Lady Cats have a very real chance of cracking the top three teams overall in the meet, after they finished second of all Mid-American Conference schools in the Pre-National meet. According to Calkins, Central Michigan, Toledo and Miami all pose legitimate challenges to Ohio’s team goal of making the top three on the women’s front, but he hopes that they will be able to find some chinks in the armor of those competitors and possibly pull out a win.

“Our top two are out there in front, Julie Accurso and Emily Pifer, and they’re doing a fantastic job for us," Calkins said. "But some of the other people that are stepping up, Allison Stillwell, Melissa Thompson, Ashley Waddington are all right there moving up through the ranks and with that said, we have a solid top five and a very solid top seven as well, so hopefully they all come here healthy to run in Muncie in two weeks."

Waddington said that she expects the team to surprise some people, despite having such a young squad competing against schools with many returning veterans. She also said that preparation this year is much different than past years after doing some new workouts with the coaches and receiving some days off.

Pifer commented that she expects the entire team to lay it all on the line for the meet and do the best they can do. She also added that although many people go into the race extremely pumped up, she does all she can to keep herself calm, collected and focused.

The Lady Cats will race at noon on Saturday in Muncie.

The awards for both sides will be presented at 1:00 p.m.