Cross-country fights cold weather, heads to NCAA Great Lakes Regional

Richie Mulhall

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Snow is expected to pelt the northeast region of the country Thursday evening into Friday, but the inclement weather doesn’t concern Kent State cross-country coach Mark Croghan one bit.

Despite frigid temperatures and potential flurries of snow, the Kent State cross-country team will keep its back to the storm and travel to Madison, Wisconsin on Friday to compete in the 2014 NCAA Great Lakes Regional, hosted by Wisconsin University at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course.

Running and racing in the cold comes with the territory of being a cross-country runner, especially in November.

“I’m not really worried about the conditions,” Croghan said. “Barring a lot of water on the course, it actually should be a pretty good day to run.”

People who have never run cross-country before might beg to differ, but the cross-country team faced similar cold conditions two weekends ago at the Mid-American Conference Championships in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

The athletes are used to competing in cold, near-freezing temperatures, especially Kent State runner Matt Kahl, who might very well be participating in the last cross-country meet of his collegiate career Friday.

Kahl, a senior from Mason, Ohio, has been running cross-country for Kent State for four years now and has competed in 21 races over the course of his college career. His 22nd race this Friday could be his last.

“I think Matt has a better performance in him,” Croghan said. “I think he’s better over 10k than he is over 8k, so I’m hoping Matt will put it all together. Barring a top 10 finish at the regional meet, this will most likely be his last cross-country meet — hopefully not — he has to certainly treat it like it and be aggressive.”

The last time Kahl hit the course, he led the men’s team to a sixth-place finish at the MAC Championships with a personal 14th-place finish. He ran a time of 24:54.

On the women’s side, Croghan said he thinks the dynamic duo of senior Kelsey McAlpine and junior Rachel Slingluff has a chance to run another breakout race Friday.

“(The MAC Championships) were definitely breakthrough races for Kelsey and Rachel — it just happened to be a really deep field this year,” Croghan said. “I think the two of them can still take a step forward.”

McAlpine, who paced the women’s team to eighth place in the MAC Championships, finished 17th with a time of 21:23, and Slingluff managed to stay hot on her heels with a 23rd-place finish in a time of 21:32.

It is unlikely that McAlpine and Slingluff will break the top 10 and move on the to the NCAAs, but stranger things have happened, Croghan said.

“I’d like to see them run a similar type of race as Matt, be aggressive and put themselves in that top 35 to top 40. But realistically you got to be in that top 10 to move on as an individual,” Croghan said. “Never say never as far as what an athlete can or cannot do, but each of them would have to step forward and have a serious breakthrough performance over what they’ve done in the past. Sometimes crazy things happen.”

Croghan has his own expectations of both the men’s and women’s teams, collectively, aside from the individual performances of Kahl, McAlpine and Slingluff, the team’s top three runners this season.

“On the men’s side, I’d like to see us crack the top 25 and on the women’s side, same thing,” Croghan said. “I think if we can get in the upper half, that would be a pretty good day.”

Kent State will compete with 34 schools throughout the Great Lakes Region in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

“There will be a lot of the Big Ten Schools there, a lot of the MAC schools there, a lot of the Horizon League schools. A lot of them we saw them at the Pre-National meet, but it’s always a competitive region with that many teams,” Croghan said.

The men will run the 10k course this time, while the women will stick to their conventional 6k course. The women’s 6k race will kick off at 1 p.m., and the men’s 10k race is slated to start at 2 p.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].