bleedCrimson.net: The WAC Pre-Championship poll was released earlier this week with the Aggie women picked second and the men picked third.
Meaghan Harkins: I think as far as the poll is concerned, as far as our results on paper from this year are concerned I think that the polls were fair, however, we're going to be looking to surprise a few people at WAC.
bc.net: On the men's side how has the rest of the WAC performed this year and what have you seen from the team this past two weeks in preparation for the WAC championships?
MH: Utah State was ranked first on the men's side and I think that's a fair ranking. They've won five out of the last six WAC championships so they're always a perennial force and they've been running very, very well this year. It's always hard to compare times. Utah State, if you look at it on paper they've been running a lot faster than we have, however, they have not been running the same courses as we have and so there's a lot of room for variation there. I think our men are capable of competing with them and ultimately Utah State is vulnerable in terms of their spread. I think their one through five for their last race was over a minute, maybe a minute and twenty seconds or so and for our men, I believe we were about 38 seconds from one through five. Obviously the more of our men we can get in front of their fourth, fifth and even third runner, the better off we're going to fare.
The same for Idaho, they're very solid however, their fifth runner leaves them very vulnerable. Typically their fifth runner is about a minute behind their fourth runner and I think that they're beatable because of that.
bc.net: The guys are going there looking to win the championship, that's been their goal all season long. How will the experience they gained from last year's second place finish help them this season?
MH: In terms of our men and what they learned from last year is that when it comes down to WAC, because it's a smaller meet than a lot of the meets we're running in, the pack becomes extremely important, even moreso than having some great front runners. In the WAC you can always offset some great front runners with a closely knit pack and I think that's going to be the most important thing going into these championships as well. If we can get one through nine as close as possible it will serve us very well because our one through five pack has typically been pretty close knit and I think we can close the gap between five and the rest of our nine.
I think that's very important and also just toughness overall. Honestly I think our men's team has always been defined by their toughness. They're gritty as hell and they'll fight for everything, they'll literally fight for every spot out there and I think that's definitely one of their strengths too and it will help us at any meet but specifically at the WAC championships. We set the high goal for ourselves early on in the season and it's time for us to lay it on the line.
bc.net: On the women's side, Courtney and Camille Schultz have to be considered the favorites to finish first and second again this season individually but you've also gotten some very good performances from your younger kids on the squad this season.
MH: We have yeah, it's been a good year in terms of closing that one through five gap. That's really what killed us last year was that one through five was way too spread out in every single meet we had. We've done a good job of closing it this year.
As far as the twins are concerned, yes, their goal is to finish 1-2, however, there is one individual, Hannah Kaiser [Idaho], who had an exceptional outdoor season last year and is having an exceptional cross country season this year. She could give the twins a run for their money. Nothing is set in stone and we're going in not taking anything for granted whatsoever.
Tamara Lementino is a freshman, she's the only freshman traveling with us this year. She's having an outstanding season for us and she's been in our top five I think every race she's run so far this year so obviously a great job there. Anytime a freshman can come in and make that transition immediately it bodes well for the team as well as for her career as she goes through her four years here.
Sammy Hamilton as well, last year she wasn't very happy with her season but I think she's making up for it this year. She's been a scorer at least in our last few races, she's been in our top five.
Maddie Stoltze is coming on in a big way and Chelsa McDonnell of course, we can always depend on her. She's been a solid number three for us the past couple of years.
bc.net: As far as the twins go, you mentioned Hannah Kaiser being able to give them a run for their money. The past two seasons its been a bit of a runaway for the twins. Any competition is good for them, how do you see that helping them?
MH: Honestly I think it's going to be a fantastic race. I think they're very well matched up against Hannah Kaiser. She has won every collegiate race she's run so far this year. She's undefeated in terms of collegiate competition, however, I would argue that their schedule has not been nearly as challenging as the schedule that we have run this year.
That being said, she's young, the twins have experience and strength on her.
bc.net: How much does it help the twins that they run together, almost as a team, versus Kaiser who is probably running on her own?
MH: Whether it's practice or competition, those girls are always pushing each other so it's fantastic for them. They kind of have that training partner that's always there. If one of them is lacking motivation one day, the other one is always going to be there to hold them accountable. The same thing in races too, if one of them is having a day where they don't feel as great as they have in the past, the other one is going to be there to make sure they're there to push. It's invaluable to have the both of them together and especially with the both of them being as competitive as they are and believe me, they are as competitive as all get out. That's always going to be a benefit for both of them. When I say competitive, I wouldn't argue that they're competitive with each other but when it comes to their competition, they're cutthroat.
bc.net: You've talked about Tamara Lementino's strong performances this season as a freshman. What's enabled her to make the transition from a high school athlete to a Division I athlete so easily?
MH: She was already an athlete who was pretty serious in high school. She ran for her high school and she also ran for a club team so she was pretty much an all year kind of athlete and additionally she also had very knowledgeable high school coaches who were talking to her not just about practice for two or three hours a day but explaining to her what it was to live an athletic lifestyle and I think she embodies that very well. I think she gets her sleep, I think she has a good diet, I think she understands the recover process and that it's not just about going hard every single day but there are important mileage days that are in there just as a means of shaking out the junk from the workout the day before and making sure that you actually are recovered so that you can race hard on the weekend despite having a hard workout earlier in the week. I think there's a lot of things but mainly I think she's an informed athlete and she understands the sport very well.
bc.net: What have you seen from both of the teams in practice and their demeanor this week that shows you that they're ready for this weekend?
MH: In practice the last two weeks we've been tapering and cutting mileage a little bit, cutting the volume in workouts a little bit and every single time they're working out on the track you can tell they're excited. It's constantly me telling them to relax, to not take it too hard, to not go all out and make sure you've got something left and finish the workout feeling good. Literally every single interval I've got to remind them, "Stay relaxed, you've gotta make sure you've got something for the weekend." The workouts leading up to the WAC, especially the week of, it's all about less is more. Both in terms of mileage and in terms of the effort. You obviously don't want to be going to the well in any of the workouts. They're ready, they want to go to the well. They're chomping at the bit. It's good to see. I think they're physically ready.
bc.net: Obviously this is going to be the same situation for all the teams traveling to Hawai'i for the meet, unlike the other sports with the exception of football and soccer, making the trip to Hawai'i is a yearly occurrence during conference season whereas it's a pretty rare trip for you guys.
MH: Yeah it is. Some of the distance women at least had the experience of going to Hawai'i last outdoor track season so we have made that trip once already so they kind of have the bonus experience of understanding what that entails. It is what it is and you can't do anything about it. Everyone is under the same travel circumstance as we are and it's unfortunate that we have to travel 3,000 miles to do it but that's not going to affect how we race and it's not going to affect our mindset. The girls, the men, they're all prepared for it. The biggest thing is going to be hydration, making sure the flight on the way over doesn't dehydrate them so that they're not feeling sluggish once we get there.