Cross country heads to the Bronx for Iona Meet of Champions

Richie Mulhall

After a two-week hiatus from competition, the Kent State cross country team will pack its bags and head to Bronx, N.Y., to take part in the 20th annual Iona Meet of Champions, hosted by Iona College, this Saturday, Sept. 20, at Van Cortlandt Park.

The last time the Flashes took to the course was two weeks ago at the Tommy Evans Invitational in Akron, Ohio. In that meet, the women’s team placed second in a five-team field, finishing eight points behind Malone University. Senior Kelsey McAlpine and junior Rachel Slingluff led the women’s team with second and fourth-place finishes, respectively.

“I think we got out of it what we wanted,” Kent State head coach Mark Croghan said of the team’s performance in its first meet. “You’re never really sure where people are at…until you get out there for a competition, so it was good to get a good indication of where we were at.”

Looking ahead on the women’s side, Croghan’s main concern right now going into this Saturday’s meet is shoring up some of the gaps between the team’s first-place runner and the fifth and seventh runners.

On the men’s side, Croghan hopes to get the guys on the same page and help them embrace the idea of running in packs. While there were only two places between the women’s team’s first-place runner and second-place runner at the Tommy Evans Invitational, there was a substantial gap between the first-place runner and second-place runner for the men’s team.

Redshirt senior Matt Kahl, Kent State’s best male runner at the Tommy Evans Invitational, took eighth, while the second-place runner Mitchell Grose (a redshirt sophomore) was 13 places behind Kahl with a 21st-place finish.

Croghan wishes to bridge that gap more efficiently this weekend.

“I think we want to work within packs, and there are steps we have to take between now and the MAC Championship,” Croghan said.

Croghan said he understands that the men’s team is a young, inexperienced group, but he is by no means “going to throw the season away.” After more practice and collegiate meet experience, Croghan believes the men will still be in the MAC Championship hunt later on in the year.

“Obviously we’re going to get better as we go through the season and hopefully from year to year just because we are so young, but I think also there are things we want to try to accomplish this year, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a developmental year,” he said.

The men got a good taste of the top of the conference last weekend when they faced Akron, who won its own invitational, 4-0. If the Flashes expect to be a championship-caliber force this season, they will need a lot of the younger runners to step up.

One freshman runner who impressed Croghan in the first meet was Grose.

“I though Mitch Grose ran a really good race,” Croghan said. “He ran a smart, almost veteran-type race, and he’s really stepped up as a leader in practice as well, and I think that’s going to be important because I think there’s got to be a group right there next to him for us to be successful.”

This weekend, Kent State will get a chance to face some elite competition from the East Coast and get a glimpse of teams the Flashes don’t normally see every day.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to get out there and race some new faces and some different teams instead of the same teams we see all the time,” Croghan said. “I think on the women’s side we can be up there in the top three.”

For some of the freshmen, this is their first time traveling as far as New York as part of a cross country team.

“The farthest I’ve probably traveled was to Columbus for the state meet, that was about three hours for us, so I think it’ll be fun,” freshman Madison Spreitzer said. “I think it’ll be a cool experience to run in different states.”

Grose also said this meet marks the furthest distance he has traveled for a meet.

“My brother was a Division I runner in college as well, and he traveled clear across the country, so I knew what to expect coming into college running, but now I actually get to do it,” Grose said. “I’m looking forward to going to New York, actually racing in a really big competitive meet and also spending a few days with my teammates.”

The women’s 6K race will begin at 9:30 a.m., and the men’s 8K race will start at 10:15 a.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].