The Georgetown cross country team, aiming to repeat as the women’s national champion, will take on its toughest test to date today in the Big East championship at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City.

Coming off a fourth-place finish at NCAA Pre-Nationals two weeks ago, the women’s side has turned in a solid work tab for today’s event.

“Now that we’re only a month out from NCAA nationals, we’re getting closer to form, and each meet shows a little bit more of what we’ve really got,” Head Coach Michael Smith said. “We’re not going to be as sharp tomorrow as we are going to be in November, but we’re starting to get sharp and things are coming together nicely.”

Seniors Emily Jones, Kirsten Kasper and Rachel Schneider will provide experience for the Blue and Gray’s roster today. They will be joined by juniors Madeline Chambers and Jenna Davidner, sophomores Annamarie Maag, Hannah Neczypor and Katrina Coogan and freshman Samantha Nadel.

“This is a really awesome squad. We don’t have somebody like current graduate student Emily Infeld (MSB ’12) who is going to go out and get first or second place in most of the meets,” Smith said. “However, we have a pack that is hard to break up. While all the other schools might have one or two frontrunners, our pack is hard to handle.”

That pack mentality has given the Blue and Gray a big advantage. A rule of thumb is that the gap between a team’s first and fifth runners should be below 45 seconds. At the Paul Short Run in late September, the Hoyas had a 33-second time gap between its first and fifth runners. A few weeks later at Pre-Nationals, that gap was down to 20 seconds.

But simply posting a solid number in that area will not be enough in a conference that is among the nation’s most competitive. Georgetown’s women boast a No. 9 national ranking, but Providence and Notre Dame are not far behind at No. 10 and No. 19, respectively.

“I would be shocked if Providence did not go for a shock-and-awe strategy, pretty aggressively running from the front. Since this is such a small field, our athletes have to judge whether or not to cover the moves being made or just wait and stay disciplined. It really is going to be a chess game,” Smith said. “As always, we’re still building to the national meet, moving forward and getting better.”

Smith’s team might find extra motivation knowing that the last time Georgetown claimed the women’s Big East title was 11 years ago, when the championships were last held at Van Cortlandt Park.

The Hoyas are just as promising on the men’s side, because they are utilizing the same training regime as the women. As a result, they are more rested than they have been all season but still practicing to build towards the middle of November.

“Our training has been going really well, and this is the first meet where we’ve been going in with our legs under us, so hopefully, the guys will be feeling more chipper than they have been going into the last few meets,” assistant coach Brandon Bonsey said.

The Blue and Gray will be without the experience and course leadership of All-American graduate student Mark Dennin, who won the Paul Short in late September but has not competed since then as part of his training for the NCAA championship.

Senior Andrew Springer will likely be the frontrunner, contending for an individual championship. He will be joined by seniors Ben Furcht and Dylan Sorensen, juniors Brian King and Max Darrah, sophomores Colin Leibold, John Murray and Miles Schoedler and freshman Darren Fahy.

“The biggest key on this course is running the downhills well. There are a lot of hills at Van Cortlandt, so I think we can make a huge impact on the down hills because our team probably has the best leg speed of any team in the race,” Bonsey said. “So that’s where we’re going to try to make our moves and make sure we get in good position.”

Just as on the women’s side, the men’s race will include several nationally ranked squads challenging No. 27 Georgetown, including No. 16 Syracuse and No. 25 Villanova. Louisville, led by a pair of Kenyan freshmen in Japhet Kipchoech and Ernest Kibet, will also be making a strong case for itself on the course.

With three weeks to go until the NCAA championship, the Hoyas are beginning the final stretch today. For his part, Bonsey thinks the team is ready.

“This is the first of the meets that we’re really going to try and run well at, and we’re in a good position to do that. All fall, it’s been a progression — our guys get better week after week. So we’re excited.”

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