MOUNT PLEASANT – Powered by a combination of youth and experience, the 2011 women's cross country team continued a recent run of success for the program.
The Chippewas earned second place honors at the Mid-American Conference Championship Meet and eighth place at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Meet, both for the second consecutive season.
Junior Charnele Lyons, who finished sixth at the MAC Championships, earned first-team honors with a to lead a group of three Chippewas who were All-MAC. Sophomore Krista Parks and senior Holly Anderson were named to the second team after 10th and 12th place finishes, respectively.
After taking a few meets to work all of the runners into the lineup, assistant coach Matt Kaczor said the turning point for the season was mid-October's Pre-Nationals Meet in Terre Haute, Ind.
“When I saw Pre-Nats and I saw what the team did there collectively, I knew we were heading in the right direction,” Kaczor said. “The first couple of meets I didn't see a solid five. Our five were just not strong enough, and then the sixth and seventh were just too far back. If anyone had a bad day, the team was going to have a bad day. The Pre-National meet was definitely the turning point."
The Chippewas put together a ninth place finish in a field of 37 teams that included eleven nationally-ranked or vote-earning teams, according to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association polls. Senior Raeanne Lohner led the Chippewas with a 30th place finish.
From that point, the women carried their momentum into the MAC Championships, the highlight of the season.
“The ladies executed the plan up until 4k beautifully. We had our two through five ladies running together in a pack picking off people throughout the race,” he said. “I knew they bought into the program, they were following it, they understood it, and they are finally starting to see the results of what the plan and the process is all about.”
Most consistently at the front of the pack for the Chippewas was senior Raeanne Lohner, who was the first Chippewa to cross the line in three of the five races in which she competed this season. Also providing consistency and leadership was Anderson, who was the fastest Chippewa at the Spartan Invitational and at least a top-three Chippewa in her other four races.
“Those two are going to be very tough to replace,” Kaczor said. “They bought in and have really worked hard over the years. They're reaping the benefits. Those two ladies gave everything that they had for this program.”
Replacing outstanding seniors certainly isn't a new phenomenon for the Chippewas – in fact, the team had to do so for the 2011 season.
Four seniors from last season's nine-runner roster at the MAC meet and three from the seven-runner Regional team, including second-team All-MAC honoree Kylee Kubacki, graduated, leaving large openings in the roster to be filled in 2011.
“We knew we were going to have to replace a lot of people,” Kaczor said. “We knew we were going to have to really step up. We didn't have many ladies who redshirted last year, so we knew we were going to have to rely on our freshman and a few other people to step up.”
Kaczor highlighted Lyons as one of the runners who stepped up the most.
“This year she showed the maturity and she showed the determination that she can handle the pressure and the expectations of what it takes to be at this next level where she wants to be,” he said. “She has definitely taken over that leadership role for when Holly and Raeanne graduate.”
The junior finished among the top five Chippewas in each of the six races she ran this season, most notably her sixth place finish at the MAC Championships.
Another significant contributor for the Chippewas was true freshman Breanne Lesnar. The Freeland, Mich., freshman ran unattached for CMU for the first two meets in order to get acclimated to the collegiate cross country experience and build up her mileage, but she made an immediate impact when she was added to the official race roster for the Notre Dame Invitational in late September.
Lesnar, a late-comer to cross country who dominated in the handful of races in which she ran during high school, finished in the CMU top five in each of her four races, including performances at Pre-Nationals and Regionals at the end of the season in which she was the second-fastest Chippewa.
“You're talking about a lady who has a lot of improvement, and she's only hitting the tip of it,” Kaczor said. “We're really excited about the direction of where she's going and what she can do for this team. I really feel that she's going to be a huge contributor to this program.”