The Toledo cross country teams are preparing for the 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship Meet on Saturday, Oct. 27, hosted by Buffalo at Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island, NY. The women's 6K race is set to begin at 11:00 a.m., while the gun for the men's 8K will fire off at Noon.
As the two-time defending MAC champion and preseason favorite to grab this year's crown, the No. 20 Toledo women's squad will try to capture the program's fifth overall title. They are also seeking a third-straight NCAA championship bid.
The Rockets are coming off an impressive showing at the prestigious Wisconsin Adidas Invite where all five scoring runners ran under 21:00.
"I think we're in a great spot," UT Head Coach Kevin Hadsell said. "The way that we've been training and racing all year is really at a high level. I think it was even surprising to me to see how we've progressed and improved."
According to the 15th-year head coach, the 2012 women's team could be better than last year's group as they seek a fifth program title. The '11 Rockets broke the scoring record at MAC championships (33 points) and recorded the highest finish by a MAC school at the NCAA championships (21st).
"If this team raced last year's team right now, honestly I don't think it would be close," Hadsell said.
Toledo's top runners are sophomore Mackenzie Chojnacky and senior Kaylin Belair. Chojnacky, a native of Jerome, ID, raced to her first career victory at the Mel Brodt Opener on Aug. 31. She led the Rockets to a narrow second-place finish at the Kansas Rim Rock Farm Classic against region-rival No. 7 Michigan, finishing at 20:45.10 in third place overall. Chojnacky has earned MAC Runner of the Week honors twice this season.
Belair, who transferred two years ago, has made the most of her final season. She was recently named MAC Runner of the Week following her performance at the Wisconsin Adidas Invite on Oct. 12. With Chojnacky nursing an injury, Belair picked up the slack by running a personal-best time of 20:22 in a meet that featured 20 ranked teams. She helped UT beat seven of those teams, including No. 9 Vanderbilt, as they finished tied for 13th place with Yale.
The other runners lining up at Beaver Island State Park will be juniors Devyn Ramsay and Liz Lemon, along with sophomores Megan Wright, Priscilla Timmons, Liz Weiler, Brooke Tullis and Megan Gaysunas. Redshirt freshman Sharon Morgan could also be in the mix as well.
"We want to do something historic this weekend," Hadsell said. "Our goal is to surpass last year's score and see how many women we can put on the All-MAC team."
Since 2006, the winner of the women's MAC championship meet repeated as champions the following year (Ohio 2006-2007, Miami (OH) 2008-2009 and Toledo 2010-2011). The last women's team to win the MAC championship at least three consecutive years was Ohio, from 1987 to 1992.
The UT men's cross country team will try to improve on last season's sixth-place finish at the MAC championships. As a group, the Rockets have progressed over the past couple of months. They finished 11th overall at the Pre-NCAA Invitational on Oct. 13 and eighth at the Kansas Rim Rock Farm Classic, a meet that included some of the top men's programs in the country.
The return of sophomore Hilary Serem should bolster a UT lineup that includes sophomores Jake Kasperski and Dan Thompson, along with senior Elliot Livensparger. Serem, who led UT in last year's NCAA regional championship as a freshman, has spent the past few months rehabilitating a lower leg injury and is ready to go, according to Hadsell.
"On the men's side, we want to be in the position to get over the hump," Hadsell said. "Two years ago, we were winning the meet through three guys and eventually finished seventh because we were still struggling at our fourth and fifth spots."
Rounding out the men's lineup Saturday will be juniors Ricky Adamson and Nick Brenner, sophomores Adam Smercina and Louis Szilagyi and freshman Thomas Gibbons.