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September 20, 2010

Women's XC hopes to break into national elite

“Pressure is no more than the shadow of success,” fourth-year Liz Lawton said, quoting Michael Johnson. The saying definitely captures the position in which the women’s cross country team currently finds itself.

The women are ranked third in the Midwest, behind UW–Eau Claire and Wash U, and 12th nationally in D-III. It is a great spot to be in on both counts: While there remains room to improve, the spotlight shines on them more than it has in years.

“I feel we have some work to do and continued improvement to catch those teams, but also feel our women are not satisfied with the ranking,” head coach Chris Hall said. “They would like to strive to move up, and if anyone from this region can challenge those top two teams, I feel it is us.”

Moving up will be no easy task. Eau Claire is both the defending NCAA champion as well as regional champion, while the Maroons’ rival Wash U placed second in the region last year and is ranked fourth in the preseason national ranking. By contrast, Chicago placed sixth in the region last fall—one spot too low to qualify for NCAAs.

Chicago’s preseason rankings, and the teams ranked ahead of them, have given the Maroons a number of goals to hit this season. They want to break into the top 10 nationally, and they want to win at UAAs. To win the conference they will have to beat both Wash U as well as Case Western, ranked 23rd nationally. Both goals will be tough; Chicago has not won UAAs since 2004, and the only time they finished in the top 10 at Nationals was their 1998 sixth-place finish.

Chicago’s jump in the polls between last season and now in part reflects Lawton’s successes in the spring outdoor track season.

“One major factor is that Liz Lawton established herself as one of the top runners in the country by winning the 10-kilometer and five-kilometer at the outdoor NCAA meet last spring,” Hall said. Even so, he was quick to add that, “Liz will get a lot of accolades, but we all realize this is a team sport, and the athletes behind her are going to be the backbone of our team.”

In the cross country scoring system, the team score is derived by adding up the finishes of each individual runner; the lower the team score, the better, and teams that get packs of runners toward the front of the field do the best. If teammates run together, they benefit from being able to draft off of one another, and often bring out better performances.

“Following Liz we will need to have five runners within 15 seconds of each other and several in an all-region position,” Hall predicted.

For her part, Lawton seems to be attempting to live up to the expectations she set last spring. “I haven’t really had an injury-free cross-country season [while at Chicago],” Lawton said, “so I need to stay healthy and make sure I prevent and rehab anything that pops up.”

Lawton’s goals are the same as the team’s, and she is confident she and her teammates will hit their marks. “We have a great synergy going so far, and we’ve been doing really well in workouts,” she said. “I don’t see how we won’t be a top-10 team in the country if everyone stays healthy and smart about training and rest.”

Lawton isn’t the only Maroon who’s had success in Chicago’s running program. Fourth-year Lizzie Bright and classmate Molly Peverada were both named all-region runners for their 33rd- and 47th-place finishes at the Midwest Regional last November, and third-year Rachel Ohman has the second fastest six-kilometer time in school history.

Lawton was the top finisher in Chicago’s first meet this season, the Elmhurst Early Bird Invitational on September 3, and Bright was first among all Maroons at the Aurora Invitational a week later, though Lawton sat out that meet.

Chicago was first among all teams at both meets. The team’s next race is the Loyola Lakefront Invitational on Saturday, October 2.

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