Despite the fact that one pits 300+ pound men against each other on the gridiron while the other pits men and women who look like they could be eaten by a hungry linebacker against each other on a grassy field, early season cross country meets share one huge commonality with the NFL preseason– it is almost impossible to draw any conclusions from either of them. Without knowing the training programs of the coaches or the emphasis teams are putting on the meet, it’s difficult to say what a late August meet means for teams who want to be running their best some two and a half months later. However, just as the NFL preseason does nothing to tell us who’s going to be good come the regular season, Kentucky’s performance at the Belmont opener should be examined more in light of what it means for the teams’ composition, and less for how they will fare come Conference and Regionals. (Yes, I did just compare Cross Country to the NFL. I will go to great lengths to make people interested in Cross Country)
The men were led, as expected, by Senior Matt Hillenbrand, who finished fourth in the race with a time of 15:52. The real story on the men’s side was in the impact of several newcomers to the team. Zach Beavin, a Kentucky native who competed for Belmont his freshman year, showed how crucial he will be to Kentucky’s success this year, coming in as the second Wildcat in 14th place overall. Another addition, Spencer Hrycay, a freshman from Wisconsin, joined Beavin in UK’s top five, coming in just seconds behind Senior Adam Kahleifeh (17th overall) as Kentucky’s 4th scorer in 18th overall. UK’s top five was rounded out by senior Robbie Scharold (22nd overall) with freshman Zack Kuzma and sophomore Jared Phillips only a few spots back in 24th and 26th respectively.
Having such a close pack up front (less than 20 seconds separated UK’s 2nd and 7th runners) could give UK the opportunity to not only run together as a pack in races, but should also mean there will be plenty of competition in practice as the top guys push each other everyday. However, for the Cats to be competitive come November, they’ll need at least one runner from this pack to take it up a level and be capable of posting a second low score behind Matt Hillenbrand. I would point to one of the freshmen as most likely to make the jump. Although the higher mileage and tougher workouts in college can, in some cases, lead to burn out or injury, this coaching staff has a remarkable record of keeping athletes healthy. Look for one of the new guys to make a big jump in the coming months.
On the women’s side, the expected trio of seniors Cally Macumber, (18:26 for 9th), Allison Peare (18:36 for 13th) and Anna Bostrom (18:46 for 16th) led the way for Kentucky. Filling in the top 5 were Seniors Taylor Wendler (22nd) and Freshman Cassidy Hale (23rd).
The biggest question mark for the Women’s team has to be depth. UK’s next two runners after Hale were Freshmen Amy Hansen (49th) and Kristen Hale (70th, and yes, she is Cassidy’s twin sister). While UK’s top 5 were separated by a mere 33 seconds, the gap between 5th and 7th was over two minutes. With only ten women on the roster and what appears to be a significant gap after the crucial fifth and final scoring runner, there is very little room for injury or error among Kentucky’s top five if this team wants to find success later this fall.
The meet was scored in a “dual” meet format. Instead of the normal format (every runner scoring based on their place with team ranks determined by the lowest scores from each team’s top 5 runners), each team was scored against two other teams, with both Kentucky teams paired against SEC foes Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The men beat Vanderbilt (who doesn’t offer scholarships for Men’s Cross and is perennially terrible) while losing to Tennessee (never fun). The women were edged by a traditionally strong Vanderbilt team while easily defeating the women in (puke) orange (TAKE THAT Tennessee!). Both teams will be back in action in two weeks when UK hosts its first home cross country meet in over a decade on September 14th.