The Ohio State cross country teams take to the course Friday in Delaware, Ohio in the Cross Country All-Ohio Championship.
The men’s team began the season with a first-place finish at the Mountaineer Open on Sept. 18th at Appalachian State University. The Buckeyes finished in six of the top 10 spots, claiming a large margin of victory over the competition.
The team is No. 4 in the Great Lakes Region and has received votes to make the national top 30.
Senior Jeff See, the standout runner for the men’s team, finished the race second overall.
See may be a new name to followers of last year’s team because he sat the season out to “build up my fitness level … to compete in track and cross country at a higher level,” See said.
It also made him eligible for a fifth year of participation next year.
The team has high expectations for Friday’s meet, See said.
“We think we can win this one … there are some good teams in Ohio, but we want to prove we are the best,” he said.
The men’s team has had great success under coach Robert Gary, winning the All-Ohio Championship seven of the 12 years he has been head coach.
The Buckeye runners and coaches have high hopes for the season, but the pressure is not affecting the runners.
“We are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to do well this year,” See said. “Having the public eye on us more this year will help keep the team in check.”
The women’s team has also started the season impressively, finishing third at the Dayton Flyers 5k Challenge, in which the Buckeyes’ top runners did not compete. They finished second in the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational at Penn State. The team has already jumped four spots to number seven in the Great Lakes Region since the preseason rankings came out.
The women’s team has made all of this progress without top runner Sarah Foster, who injured her ankle very early in the season. In her first race back, Foster took first place overall at the 5k Cedarville Friendship Invitational.
“I didn’t have to run at Cedarville, but I wanted to get a race in before All-Ohio,” Foster said.
Distance coach Chris Neal is confident in the depth of this year’s team compared to previous teams, saying that “it is nice knowing that Foster does not have to be at her best every meet for the team to win.”
The depth Neal emphasized was evident at the Penn State meet when juniors Jordan Jennewine and Ellen Birmingham and senior Katie Williams finished second, third, and fifth respectively.
“Jennewine will be one of our go-to girls this season,” Neal said. “Those three are our most consistent in practice.”
The team expects first place at the All-Ohio Championships this weekend, Neal said.
“If you talk to the team, anything less than a win would be a disappointment.” Foster said. “With me back and winning All-Ohio, it would … show that we are ready.”
The Buckeyes have not had much luck at the All-Ohio Championships the past two years, taking 10th overall last season and 11th overall in 2007. The 2007 11th-place finish broke a streak of four straight second-place finishes at the meet.
Something that may help the Buckeyes is a 40 percent chance of rain this Friday. Neal said the team is “better when it’s muddy like at Penn State.”
The team’s overall goal for the year is to “continue to move up in the conference and finish in the top half of the Big Ten … and get to the National Championship Meet,” he said.
“We need to get some points at the pre-nationals to help us make it to the nationals,” Foster said. “We think we can finish third in the region, but we want second to secure a spot in the national championship meet.”
With both teams eyeing the NCAA Championship meet at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, this weekend will play a vital role in the morale of both teams who expect to take first place.
“It really helps to have the support of people around Columbus and Ohio State,” Foster said. “We have a chance to make Ohio State history Friday by winning All-Ohio for the first time.”
The women’s varsity race is at 2 p.m. and the men’s varsity is at 2:45 p.m. near the Methodist Theological School and Delaware Golf Club in Delaware, Ohio.