DePaul Cross County Enters BIG EAST Conference Championships
CHICAGO - Halloween might be just around the corner, but the DePaul men's and women's cross country teams have more pressing matters on their minds than costumes and candy: the 2009 BIG EAST Conference Championships. The Blue Demons return to the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course in Kenosha, Wis. on Saturday, Oct. 31 after testing the terrain three weeks ago at the Lucian Rosa Invitational.
The starting pistol for the men's 8K sounds at 11 a.m. (CST), followed by a 6K women's trek at approximately 11:50 a.m.
DePaul faces some of the premier talent in the county, as the BIG EAST touts five men's teams in the U.S.Track & Field and Cross Country Association (USTFCCCA) top-30 poll, while six women's squads hold a spot in the national rankings.
The Blue Demons are led by two-time BIG EAST Athlete of the Week Matthew Graham, who not only is the sole student-athlete in the league to take the honor twice this season, but has won all five regular-season contests this year.
"Matt hasn't taken for granted any of the recognition he has received," commented head coach Pat Savage, "With all the nationally ranked talent in our league, he knows he is going to have to run the race of his life if he wants to earn all-conference accolades."
Only the top-15 runners in both the men's and women's races are named to the all-conference team.
"He has worked extremely hard this year, and has learned much from his freshman year," Coach Savage continued, "He is used to leading the pack and winning."
In the beginning of the season, the team talked about goals they wanted to meet for the 2009 campaign.
"One of the things we discussed was breaking into the top-10 in the team standings," stated Savage. Last season the men walked away in 11th place while the women settled for 13th.
With some prominent names missing or hindered by injury in both lineups, Coach Savage is still confident his squads can accomplish this goal.
"If we want to succeed, the student-athletes need to run together and push each other. With the exception of Matt, we don't have a large gap between the times our number two through six runners are capable of putting up. It's the same on the women's side. If we can finish within 30 seconds of one another, I think we will be in good shape."
In cross country, only the top-five finishers on a team earn points, while the sixth and seventh place finishers serve as a tie-breaker if necessary. The number of points a student-athlete earns is typically equivalent to the overall place they finish. Similar to golf, the team with the lowest overall score wins.
Mary Cate Quiett, while leading the women's squad nearly all season long, relies on the consistent performances of Toni Salvatore, Terah Cheatham, Stephanie Hughes and Kelly Pickering to help put up solid team finishes. The five, in addition to Claire O'Brien, all finished within a minute of one another during the first race at the Dannehl National Cross Country Course three weeks ago.
Both teams have also raced at the Notre Dame Golf Course twice this season, with nearly everyone making significant improvements on their performances the second time around.
On the men's side, Greg Udzielak, Max Clink, Brian Begalke and Max Rodrigues have been able to challenge each other on the course, after finishing within 10 spots of one another at the Lucian Rosa Invitational last time out to lift the team to third place.
This is the first time the conference championships have been held in Kenosha, Wis., and only the fourth location in the event's 31 year history. The only other courses to play host to the BIG EAST Championships have been Franklin Park in Boston (17 times), Van Cortlandt Park in New York City (12), and the Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville (once).
Only six teams have taken the men's title in the last 30 years, with Providence claiming the most wins with 15, while Georgetown won the championship last season. Similarly, only six women's squads have ever claimed the conference crown, with Villanova winning its league-best 11th championship during the 2008 season.
Following the 2009 BIG EAST Conference Championship, the Blue Demons travel to Missouri State of the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 14.