MOUNT PLEASANT - The women’s cross country team has finished runner-up at the Mid-American Conference Championships for two consecutive years, but the 2012 squad is aiming one spot higher.
The Chippewas are in the running for a MAC Championship and a fourth-consecutive top 10 finish at the Great Lakes Regional in 2012 thanks to a balance of strong veterans and talented younger runners.
“Anytime you’re going for a conference, regional or national championship, you have to depend on each other, which means experience and youth must work together,” director of track and field Willie Randolph said. “We’re making sure that upperclassmen understand their roles, and that the underclassmen understand it’s not about whether they’re juniors, sophomore or freshmen - it’s about coming in and making the best happen by working together.”
Though the top two runners from 2011, Raeanne Lohner and Holly Anderson, have exhausted their NCAA eligibility, a new crop of senior leaders has stepped in to fill the void.
Senior Charnele Lyons is the top returner from the 2011 season, having finished with first-team All-MAC honors after running the race of her life at the MAC Championships. She finished sixth in the 6K race in a career-best 21:13.9 - almost a minute faster than her previous best mark.
Maddie Ribant and Veronica Garcia are both fifth-year runners who will provide strong leadership for the Chippewas. Garcia finished 31st at the 6K MAC Championships in a career-best 22:14.7, while Ribant is coming into the season on a high note after finishing seventh in the 3,000m steeplechase during the outdoor track season.
Junior Krista Parks and sophomore Breanne Lesnar lead the stable of younger runners for the Chippewas.
Parks earned second-team All-MAC honors in 2011 as a sophomore, and was a first-team honoree in 2010 as a true freshman. She will look to regain and surpass the form she displayed as a freshman, when she finished seventh at the MAC Championships and 29th in the Great Lakes Regional. She is coming off a strong track season in which she set career-best marks in the 5,000m (16:56.92) and 10,000m (36:40.71) runs.
Lesnar, a relative latecomer to the sport who started running high school cross country as a senior, is blossoming into a formidable competitor. She finished 38th in the Great Lakes Region with a career-best 6K time of 21:32.7, and finished ninth in her first collegiate race as an attached CMU runner at Notre Dame with a career-best 5K time of 18:06.
Senior Jacquelyn McEnhill will compete for a spot in the top seven, as will the plethora of underclassmen runners. With six freshmen and five sophomores on the roster, 11 of the 17 runners are either in their first or second year of collegiate competition.
The season opens with the Jeff Drenth Memorial at Pleasant Valley Golf Course in Mount Pleasant at 10 a.m., in honor of the former CMU distance running great and Olympics hopeful who died unexpectedly in 1986.
The schedule also features two trips to defending men’s national champions Wisconsin for the Badger Opener (Sep. 7) and the Great Lakes Regional (Nov. 9), and meets at Big Ten opponents Michigan State (Sep. 14) and Minnesota (Sep. 29).
Buffalo will host the MAC Championships on Oct. 27, and the Chippewas will attempt to qualify for the National Championships either as a team or individually at the Great Lakes Regional.
The NCAA Championships will be held in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 17.