NORTH ANDOVER — The Merrimack cross country team heads north to Vermont this weekend for the Northeast-10 Championship, scheduled for Sunday morning at St. Michael’s just north of Burlington.
Ahead of this weekend’s championship, the coaches around the league have pegged the women to finish fourth and the men to take ninth overall.
“I’d say that the team is more confident heading into this meet than we have been for any other meet this year,” said Evan Vadenais, captain of the men’s team.
“As a team, were feeling really strong,” added women’s captain Kristin Schmidt. “We’ve had a few good key workouts the past two weeks, and are feeling better than ever. I think last week was one of our best races this season. Our goal was to work together as a group, and we executed that plan very well. We won the race overall as a team and had a few top-15 individual finishes.”
The men’s team is looking for a complete race this weekend, especially establishing its pack near the front.
“We’ve had a lot of great races this year but we still haven’t had a ‘complete race’ as a team,” Vadenais said. “Meaning we haven’t had all top-5 guys race as a pack, but we feel that getting everyone healthy will be the key to that.”
The weather has been tough on the runners the last several weeks. The season begins in early September, where temperatures were in the 90s most afternoons. It stayed that way for much of the past month until more recently, when in the last week temperatures dropped considerably.
That’s clearly a challenge for the runners, but it’s also not unexpected in New England. Especially in the NE-10, it’s a challenge that every other team also has to consider over the fall season.
On Sunday morning in Vermont, the forecast calls for cloudy skies with a chance of rain and temperatures in the low-50s.
“Cross-country is a tough sport and we train in any type of weather so we are prepared mentally and physically for whatever type of weather we have to endure during the race,” said Schmidt.
“The weather is always challenging in New England, but you just can’t dig too much into it,” Vadenais added. “Everyone in the conference has to train in roughly the same conditions, so we just use that as motivation.”
Merrimack hasn’t raced at St. Michaels since at least 2009, which is as far back as the schedules are archived on the Merrimack website. Without much knowledge of the course, the team will make the trip on Saturday before racing Sunday morning.
“We’ll head up St. Mikes on Saturday to see the course,” said Vadenais “We know that it’s relatively flat and fast, so we have had a lot of workouts on the North Andover commons to prepare for that.”
“We are lucky enough to be able to preview and warm up on the course the day before the race to prepare,” Schmidt said. “We usually also get a map to familiarize ourselves with the course. At the end of the day I believe we are physically prepared for any type of terrain.”
The Warriors haven’t won a championship in cross country since the women’s team won the title for three straight years from 1998-00.
Last Time Out
Merrimack head coach Chris Cameron on Merrimack’s last race at the Kirsh Cup: “We ran a very tactical race today, we worked on really packing it together with our runners, and we did a great job of varying paces throughout the race. Overall we looked much better than the previous race, which is good as we get to the Championship part of the season.”
The women’s team won that race while the men finished fourth overall.