In 2012, Loyola hosted the 40th Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational at Montrose Beach. Now — after a six year break — Loyola has brought back the Lakefront Invitational for its 41st run, which is set to take place Sept 29. The meet was originally canceled to the amount of cross-country races already scheduled on that weekend. Assistant cross-country coach Alan Peterson said he is really excited to have the meet back.
“Just the importance of showing off what we can do as a school … [and] what kind of meet we can put on,” Loyola assistant cross-country coach Alan Peterson said. “It’s really exciting to bring it back.”
The two-day event hosts elementary school, middle school, high school and college runners. The high school runners will be running in the “Bill Branda” High School Division and the collegiate athletes will be running in the “Sean Earl” University/Collegiate Division.
Earl was a former Loyola student-athlete who ran cross-country in the late 1990s. He had a long battle with testicular cancer that eventually spread to his brain. He lost his battle and passed away Feb. 27, 2000. Due to his dedication to the team Loyola named the Lakefront invitational after him.
Montrose Beach is in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood about two and a half miles from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. Unlike other meets, this one won’t be on a golf course. Having the race in a park area means the grass will be softer and easier for the runners, according to assistant cross-country coach Mircea Bogdan.
He said with the home course advantage, he’s hoping the Loyola runners will put up some fast times.
“You compete at home like any other sports, like any other sport … you get extra motivation,” Bogdan said. “We should compete at a better level just because we know we’re at home. You think, every single guy . . . representing Loyola will find that extra motivation to show off who they really are because it’s a home contest.”
This year, over 60 teams from across the country are traveling to compete in the Lakefront Invitational. Division I teams The Ohio State University, University of Missouri, Arizona State University and Texas A&M are all making the trip to Chicago for the weekend, according to the Loyola athletics department. Other notable schools attending are Princeton University and Division II team, Grand Valley State University.
Former Horizon League opponent University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University and Roosevelt University are some Chicago schools attending the meet.
“A lot of the local schools [will be there],” Bogdan said. “I think the caliber is just high. Assuming everybody brings their top horses, this is going to turn into an elite meet. Assuming the course and the weather cooperates, we could see something that will resonate throughout the country and maybe next year we will have to select which teams we really want to come.”
Bringing back the Lakefront Invitational was an unexpected surprise to the athletes, according to junior Derek Rink. The Lakefront Invitational gives the local runners a chance to run close to their schools.
“Going in last year we didn’t expect to have a home meet again and I think it’s a great opportunity for alumni to come as well as other fans of our team,” Rink said. “We have been going to a lot of meets out of Chicago. It will be cool to have somewhere centralized to have all these Chicago teams run.”
The first-year runners are at a disadvantage when it comes to running the away courses, since they have never been on them before, according to junior Rita Maurais. She said having a course they’ve seen before could help them be more comfortable and get faster times.
“I think it’s really convenient that we can have them run on the course before so they are not wondering where they are in the course,” Maurais said. “It’s so different just look at a map and being able to run on it.”
Every member of the Loyola team will be running at home for the first time. Hosting this meet gives younger runners the opportunity to see it’s possible to run cross-country in the city, according to Bogdan. He said the meet also gives the coaches an opportunity to look at some recruits without traveling.
“It kind of puts us on the map … when we talk to recruits nowadays, we can tell them we have a home meet,” Bogdan said. “They get pumped and excited because some of them come from high schools where they host meets and they do well with that. It takes a little pride.”
Many of the meets Loyola will race in will have ten teams or less, according to Rink. He said running with more than 30 teams in both the men’s race and the women’s race gives the runners the opportunity to get used to running with a bigger group of people, something they might not get to do until regionals.
“This [meet] will be good experience for some of the guys who having been in the big meets like regionals where you are going to do a lot of pack running, and it might be a bit more difficult and a lot different from what we are used to,” Rink said.
Both teams are scheduled to race in the Loyola Lakefront Invitational Sept. 29 at 11 a.m. at Montrose Beach.