By Darren Zancan
Eastern’s cross-country teams had been gearing up for Saturday’s NCAA Pre-Nationals for weeks. Both teams knew what weaknesses were present and what they needed to improve.The men had to overcome injuries so they could compete at a high level. The women were hit with the injury bug as well and missed their top runner, Picoty Leitich. The women’s team had been relatively healthy heading in, but was short on runners Saturday.
Both teams were still able to show off what’s been building up to this point. The women have outrun expectations most of the season and had the chance to continue that trend against some of the best teams in the nation.
The Colonels finished 34 out of 37 teams.
Junior Katherine Pagano once again led the team finishing 100 out of 249 runners. Pre-Nationals consisted of a 6k run. Pagano finished with a time of 22:05.0.
“We had some good runs and we put ourselves out there with the big boys,” Pagano said.
Rounding out Eastern’s top five was Sylvia Bundotich, who finished second on the team (157), followed by Danielle Mason (183), Ashli Joseph (220) and Maria Doerger (231).
Colorado University won the event while Florida State finished second and Oregon raced to a third place finish.
The Colonels did finish ahead of Ohio University and Ole Miss.
The men faired a little better with a 26 out of 35 team finish in their 8k run.
Wesley Ruttoh led the men with a 64th place finish and a time of 24:40.5.
Chris Rengifo, returning from injury, was second for the Colonels placing 105th out of 237 runners. Stanley Mugo (114), Elkana Kurgat (147) and Chris Rice (179) rounded out the top five.
“There are always ups and downs, but you have to look forward,” Rengifo said. “It was a good race, but more difficult because of the higher caliber talent.”
Stanford was able to capture Pre-Nationals in the men’s division, while Colorado came in second.
Eastern was able to outlast such notables as Cincinnati and Central Michigan.
Both teams have a week off before heading to OVC championships, which take place on Oct. 31, in Nashville, Tenn.
Pagano feels that as long as the team is healthy, things will be in their favor.
“At this point we need our eight girls at OVC (championships),” Pagano said. “Things will look a little gray if not. I don’t feel threatened and I think we will pull it together, but again that all depends on our health.”
Rengifo still believes the men are the team to beat in the OVC.
“I don’t think any teams are as strong as us,” Rengifo said. We are returning champions and have a good shot at winning. Just comes down to confidence. We got to have it.