Nate Perry, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Slowly but surely, the meets are getting bigger and the competition fiercer for Central Michigan cross country.
The Chippewas will take part in their third meet of the 2017 season on Saturday, and just as the Spartan Invitational was a step up from the season-opening Drenth Memorial, the field at the Greater Louisville Classic will have an even longer list of elite adversaries.
Both Central Michigan teams will compete in the “gold” races, which will feature the highest level of competition. Among some of the stalwarts the CMU men will face are Furman (No. 1 in the Southeast region), Middle Tennessee State (No. 1 in the South), Illinois (No. 3, Midwest), Virginia Tech (No. 3, Southeast), and Eastern Kentucky (No. 5, Southeast).
The men’s race is the first of the day, with a 9:30 a.m. start time.
“It will be a chance for the teams to test themselves as we build toward the end of the season,” CMU men’s coach Matt Kaczor said. “With the youth in our program, they are going to get better each time, but we’re trying not to think about what everybody else has done. We’re focusing on how we can stick together and have a great team race and a low point total.”
The Chippewa men have made great strides with a particularly young lineup. According to Kaczor, this is one of the strongest all-around men’s teams the program has had in recent memory and his optimism is well founded. However, he said, there is still work to be done in order to turn potential into results.
“Overall, I like where we’re at, but right now we have two distinct groups,” Kaczor said. “Our 1-5 (runners) were about 35 seconds apart from each other (at the Spartan Invitational), so we have that group. Then, we have our second group that’s just a little too far back. They’re working hard and they’re working together, so we’re hoping that changes throughout the season, but we need a few more guys to kind of get things rolling for us.
“I like ‘team,’” he said. “’Team’ is what I’m all about. So for me, I don’t care if you’re my first or my last guy, I want you to improve and be the best you can be.”
The women’s race (10:15 a.m.) includes a slew of powerhouses as well. Minnesota (No. 1 Midwest), Vanderbilt (No. 2, South), Furman (No. 2 Southeast), SMU (No. 3 South Central), and host Louisville (No. 3 Southeast) are just a few of the headliners.
The women’s team has turned in an impressive start to the 2017 campaign as well, particularly at the top with veterans Megan O’Neil and Hannah Davis, and the emergence of first-year runner Taylor Aguillon.
While the early promise is undoubtedly raising expectations, first-year coach Jenny Swieton is staying committed to the process of getting better through good old-fashioned hard work.
“When I got here, I came in with the idea that (my team) was going to work hard every day and we’ll go from there and see what happens,” she said. “This team does work really, really hard, and they’ve done that since my first day here. So, getting a chance to see them work every day, I‘ve always kind of known the sky is the limit for them because they are willing to do whatever it takes.”
Much like the men, the Chippewa women’s team will test its wherewithal and toughness at the Greater Louisville Classic and find answers to some of its internal questions.
“I think this is just a really good opportunity to remember what it’s like to be in such a competitive meet,” Swieton said. “Remembering how to keep your composure in that type of situation, getting a chance to adjust to a different type of course and going against high caliber teams will be great benefits for us down the road.”