bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Grand Canyon Invite this past weekend in Arizona?
Meaghan Harkins: I was really pleased with the results of the Grand Canyon meet. Our top three men all ran their fastest times of the year or pretty close to it. They definitely demonstrated that they're the right people to be taking on to Pre-Nats.
On the women's side, same thing. On both sides the teams were very competitive but our top four women in particular ran really well at Grand Canyon. That includes Diana Hawk who didn't end up making the travel team but she put in a heck of an effort to be up there.
bc.net: Kevin Palmer was named the WAC men's cross country athlete of the week. Talk about his performance over the weekend and earning that honor.
MH: I was pleased with Kevin Palmer's results from this past weekend, definitely excited about his men's honor. That said he's not quite where he was last year but he is making progress to get back up there. Each and every week he's improving and in the last few meets he's improved significantly. I'm definitely looking for some more improvement from him over the next three weeks through the end of the season.
bc.net: With your travel squads now complete, who are the athletes that you'll be taking to Pre Nationals this weekend in Terre Haute, IN?
MH: We're taking ten men and ten women. On the men's side we're taking the Ruybalids [Ian and Jonah], Kevin Taft, Rob Selph, Victor Sanchez, Terry Williams, Kevin Palmer, Eric and Ryan Fenton and Anthony Ellis.
On the women's side we've got the Schultz twins, Chelsa McDonnell, Tamara Lementino, Samantha Hamilton, Maddie Stolze, Riley Hightower, Carly Porter, Christy Barela and Caroline Lewiecki.
bc.net: You're headed to Pre Nationals this weekend, it's the largest competition of the year nationally. You were there last season. What are the expectations for both of your teams?
MH: Last year we went to Pre-Nats for the first time and we definitely raced a little wide-eyed. I think we were a little bit intimidated by the sheer numbers we were competing with as well as the level of competition of the teams that were there. There were several nationally competitive teams, some of the top teams in the country.
Last year was all about experience, this year we know what to expect and it's all about competing. We've shown that we can handle racing even with the best in the country and so our goal is to go in there and not be intimidated and to have some great performances and continue improving.
We're really looking at this meet, despite it being as competitive as it is, this is our last tuneup before the WAC Championships and if we run intimidated at this meet there's no reason to think we're not going to run intimidated at the WAC.
bc.net: What would you like to see as far as times on both the men's and women's side?
MH: On the women's side ideally I'd love to see the twins under 21 minutes. If they can do that, that would be about 5:37 mile pace which is what Courtney has averaged for the last two races that she's run. It is 1,000 meters longer than the previous races that we've run so that's high expectation but nevertheless we have another two weeks of training under our belts and I think the twins can be flirting with that 21 minute mark. Additionally I'd like to Chelsa McDonnell improve by about a minute over her time from last year. If she can be in the mid 21's that would be helpful. Then Tamara too closing up that gap with Chelsa is going to be helpful. Then it's all going to depend on that fifth, sixth and seventh person to get in under 23 minutes for sure.
On the men's side, I firmly believe that our top men can be under 25 minutes. It's just over five minute pace per mile. It's a 4.97 mile course or 8,000 meters. I think that our top three men in particular have the ability to do that. At least they've been showing it in practice. I think what's prevented them from doing it so far has been going out a little bit too aggressively over the first half of the race so I'd prefer for them to put the reins on a little bit and have more in the second half as a result.
As far as the other runners are concerned, I'd like to see Terry and Victor in that 25:40 range and I'd like to see the bulk of the rest of our team in that range, the six, seven, eight, nine and ten runners. If they can all be up there, I definitely think they're all capable of doing it but our three four and five guys I'd expect to be under 25:30.
bc.net: You talked about last year's visit to Pre Nats being an eye-opening experience for your teams. What have they learned from that experience as well as racing in the Cowboy Jamboree a couple weeks ago, that they can take into this meet this weekend?
MH: I definitely think that the experience has helped them with just the sheer numbers and not being intimidated anymore. The ability to stay calm despite being in a huge pack of people where maybe you can't move as easily as you'd like to in the first half of the race but having the confidence and the patience to know that the group is going to thin out and you will be able to make moves in the latter half of the race.
I think one of the most important aspects there is just confidence in your ability. You don't need to be right there at the front of the pack in order to be in good position. I think that's one of the more important things.
Then the other thing too is just because a school has a big name or they're ranked in the Top 30 in the nation, that shouldn't change the way that we race. An 8K is an 8K, a 6K is a 6K and a 5K is a 5K. It's like that scene in Hoosiers where the coach goes and measures the court and measures the basket and everything else and says there's a lot of pressure in this situation but it's nothing that we haven't done a thousand times before basically.
bc.net: In terms of individual performances, you've mentioned before that the Schultz twins and the Ruybalid brothers are really hoping to make their way to the National meet this year and of course this is the site for the National Championships this year in cross country. What are their expectations going into this meet and obviously getting a chance to preview the championship course.
MH: Yeah, previewing the course is always great when you have the opportunity to do that, if you're going to be racing again later on in the season. Obviously that will be an advantage on their part if they do end up making it to the National Championships. In terms of where they should be, they've actually changed the format this year for the meet. There used to be three men's races and three women's races and this year it's a much, much smaller meet. There's only going to be one men's championship race and one women's championship race. My thought is that potentially each race will be as competitive as each individual race was in the past.
bc.net: You're two weeks out from the WAC Championships, what are you looking for from this meet in advance of the WAC Championships? You mentioned that one of the things was to not run intimidated. What other things are you looking for from this meet?
MH: It's extremely important in this meet, our final tuneup, to run with confidence and run with toughness. Be willing to put everything on the line and not be afraid to take some chances either. I think there's always some risk involved in taking chances but at the same time you don't know what your limits are unless you take some chances and I'd much rather them take some this week before we get to WAC instead of them show up to WAC and do something crazy that might set them back ultimately. When we go into WAC we need to have a set specific strategy that we're comfortable with and confident with that has been fine-tuned over the course of the entire season.
Basically we'll be looking to do all of those things this weekend. Fine tune our racing strategies. If we haven't been happy with our races in the past then we definitely need to make some adjustments this week so that we walk away feeling good and that we left everything on the course.
Just the toughness and the confidence is important. If we don't have toughness and confidence this weekend, it's not going to just magically appear at the WAC