By James Greene
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The Holy Cross women's cross country team has shown progress in each of the last few years. After being picked seventh in the preseason Patriot League poll last year, the team finished in sixth place at the Patriot League Championship, and it looks for even more improvement this upcoming season. "Since my freshman year, our team has progressed one spot each year in the Patriot League Championship race," senior tri-captain Claire Luke said. "The captains are certainly aiming to continue this trend."
In each of the last two seasons, Holy Cross featured the same captains. "That brought a tremendous amount of consistency to the team," head coach and program director Jim Kavanagh said. Despite having new captains this year, Kavanagh says this is the most optimistic he's been about the team in recent memory. "We have the depth to overcome graduation. We're healthy, and this year's captains are ready to lead the team to the next level."
Luke appears ready to do that. "I look forward to sharing my passion for distance running and our cross country program with my teammates, and to pushing them to perform to the best of their ability so that they improve the team, themselves and our program," she said. "We have many talented and dedicated young women on the team, and I will do all I can to help make sure their potential is maximized."
The first order of business is to replace the stellar performances from last year's seniors. Alexandra Swiatocha started the season quickly for the Crusaders at the Blue Devil Invitational, finishing in third place. She followed that with three more top 50 finishes, including strong performances at the National Catholic Championship, the Murray Keatinge Invitational and the Patriot League Championship. Colleen Spilka and Elizabeth Alizzi also paced the Crusaders, and the 12 returnees for 2009 will look to fill their spots.
In addition to Luke, seniors Sarah Croteau and Meghan Dunne will captain the 2009 squad. Last year Dunne improved on a solid 2007 campaign, posting a personal best at the UMass-Dartmouth Invitational with a time of 19:50. Her best finish of the season was at the Blue Devil Invitational, finishing in 38th place to help Holy Cross win the meet.
Croteau's 14th-place finish at the Blue Devil Invitational was her best of the season, and she posted her personal best time (19:09.38) at the Murray Keatinge Invitational. "She had a remarkable year as a junior," Kavanagh said. "We have so much new talent on the team and we have runners who work hard," Croteau said. "It will be exciting to see how many teams we'll be able to upset this year as we expect to seriously improve our standings in New England and the Patriot League. We're ready to show our competitors that we're an entirely different team than we've been in the past."
An incredible bright spot for last year's team was sophomore Paige Sutherland. In her first race as a freshman, she finished second at the Blue Devil Invitational and followed it up two weeks later with a team-best 16th-place finish at the National Catholic Championship. She was the top Holy Cross performer in six of the seven races she participated in, including at the ECAC Championship at the end of the year. She returns with fellow sophomores Katie Andree, Elizabeth Humphries, Sarah Mellea and Megan Quirk, all of whose performances provided immediate dividends for the Crusaders last year as freshmen.
Juniors Allison Fimognari, Jacqueline Imse and Kathleen Kasper also bring experience to the squad. Fimognari ran four races last year, including a 35th place finish at the Blue Devil Invitational. Kasper finished 20th at the Blue Devil Invitational and ran consistently well the rest of the season. Imse had an impressive start to her year with top 25 finishes in each of her first two races. "She's really ready to run well," Kavanagh noted.
The experience provided by the returnees coupled with the skills of the incoming freshmen, allows depth to become a focal point for this year's team. Kavanagh believes there are opportunities for the incoming freshman to make it into the top five. Stephanie Bray, Catherine Derenze, Elizabeth Harkins, Claire Murphy, Meaghan Reilly, Katie Mullican and Katherine Rochford all arrive on Mount St. James hungry to contribute immediately. The team also welcomes three upperclassmen as newcomers, sophomore Sheila Croutier, junior Martha Quinn and senior Carrie Kinsella. In addition, the team is bolstered by the return of seniors Margaret Fox, who studied abroad last year, and Ariana Coniglio.
Holy Cross has 10 meets on the schedule this season. The season kicks off at the Blue Devil Invitational (Sept. 12). A busy weekend then awaits as some runners will compete at the National Catholic Championship at Notre Dame while others will participate in the Jim Sheehan Classic in Fitchburg (Sept. 18). The weekend concludes on Sept. 19 at the UMass-Dartmouth Invitational.
Holy Cross kicks off October at the Murray Keatinge Invitational at Maine (Oct. 3), then heads to the New England Championship one week later in Boston (Oct. 10). After a week off from competition, the team heads to the Central Connecticut Mini Meet (Oct. 24), then to the Patriot League Championship (Oct. 31). The Crusaders' schedule ends with the NCAA Northeast Regional (Nov. 14) and the ECAC Championship (Nov. 21).