Despite coming off drastically different seasons, both Loyola’s men’s and women’s cross country teams are focused on internal growth while setting their sights on high finishes in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championships in November.
Last year, the men’s team stumbled to an eighth-place finish out of nine teams in the MVC, while the women’s team — led by senior Lindsey Brewis — finished second in the MVC. In the preseason MVC poll, coaches from the conference voted and predicted Loyola’s men’s team to finish fifth and the women’s team to finish third.
Even after last year’s finish near the bottom of the MVC, men’s coach Mircea Bogdan said he still has high expectations for his team since the entire roster returns from last season.
“I think having them all back gives them some peace of mind,” Bogdan said. “There’s some comfort there, knowing that you can trust them. You have to have some trust in your teammates to get it done.”
“I want to do really well at the MVC [Championship]. I want to be, personally, top 20. … I was 32nd last year, so I want to be in the top 20 this year.”
For the women’s team, coach Alan Peterson said he thinks the team can compete for the top spot in the MVC even after losing Brewis, a two-time MVC Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
Peterson said this year’s squad is deeper — meaning the talent outside of the top one or two runners is better — than last year. Team depth is important in cross country even though only the top five finishers count toward a team’s score at an event. Depth factors in because each team is able to enter more than five runners with the exact amount varying based on the event.
“We’ve never been as deep as we are now,” Peterson said. “Last year, we were relying on five [runners], so if somebody had a bad race we kind of didn’t have a chance. This year, we have probably 10 girls who could be in our top five. … We’re actually in a better team situation than we were last year.”
In an effort to repeat last year’s success, Peterson said he’s looking at a combination of improvement by the upperclassmen and contributions of first-year runners. Peterson said they brought in a really strong recruiting class — including Sophia Noto, a graduate transfer from the University of Portland who’s expected to make an immediate impact for the Ramblers. He also mentioned junior Mimi Reimers as somebody who could take over that top spot, both in terms of producing good running times and leadership of the team.
“Obviously, losing [Brewis] is pretty big,” Reimers said. “I’m trying to fill that gap, especially from a leadership position and also a role model point of view.”
Internal improvement has also been the name of the game for the men’s team. The men’s team was picked to finish fifth in the MVC, but Bogdan said he thinks the team could surprise people due to their experience and continuity.
Kevin White, Loyola’s top men’s runner from last season, returns for his final season in maroon and gold. The redshirt senior was Loyola’s first runner to cross the finish line at both the MVC Championships and the NCAA Midwest Regional last season, posting times of 25:17 in the eight kilometer MVC Championships and 32:28 in the 10 kilometer NCAA Midwest Regional.
Peterson said another name to watch is sophomore Akhil Ghosh. He was one of the Ramblers’ top five runners in both of the postseason events for the Ramblers last year despite battling minor injuries throughout the season. He said he has high expectations for himself in his second year.
“I want to do really well at the MVC [Championship],” Ghosh said. “I want to be, personally, top 20. … I was 32nd last year, so I want to be in the top 20 this year.”
Ghosh isn’t alone in having his sights set on performing well in the MVC Championship. Runners and coaches on both the men’s and women’s team have said they are focused on that end-of-the-season event in November.
The Loyola Lakefront Invitational Sept. 28 is also an important event, according to several players and coaches. The event is hosted by Loyola at Montrose Beach in Chicago. Last year, 26 men’s teams and 32 women’s teams competed. Loyola men’s and women’s teams finished 15th and eighth, respectively.
“It’s a really cool experience to race on your own course in a home meet, and not a lot of colleges get an opportunity to host one where the meet is this big,” Ghosh said. “So I think a lot of the guys, especially me, are looking to have some really good races … which would be cool to see people come out for.”