Cross country focuses on future in PA.

Brittany Tatgenhorst

The Kent State cross country teams will have the 2008 Mid-American Conference championship in mind as they head to State College, Pa., to compete against more than 30 teams at today’s Penn State Invitational.

Even though the 2008 MAC Championship isn’t until Nov. 1, it has been the focus of the cross country program since the men’s team’s sixth-place finish and the women’s team’s ninth-place finish in 2007. Today will be the teams’ last meet before the MAC Championship.

“We’re really just concerned with getting better and improving on an individual basis and getting mentally and physically prepared for the MAC this week,” Kent State coach Mark Croghan said.

Croghan said the competition the Flashes will face this week is tougher than the 12 teams it will compete against at the MAC, but the course is very similar.

“It’s a good weekend to take a dress rehearsal for the MAC,” Croghan said.

The runners hope to gain positive momentum at Penn State as they look ahead to the MAC Championship.

“Having five runners in the top 20 would be a fantastic performance,” senior Joe Parker said.

Parker would like to see the men’s team improve on its performance from last week at the All-Ohio Intercollegiate. The men’s team finished third after one of its strongest runners, sophomore John Minen, dropped out of the race with a knee injury. Minen practiced with the team this week and will compete in today’s race.

“My knee has been feeling good these past couple days,” Minen said. “I’m curious to see how I race.”

Minen will join four other runners – Parker, junior Tony Jordenak and sophomores Aiman Scullion and Scott Hilditch – in hopes of running in a tight pack for most of the race.

“This week we’re all five running as a group,” Parker said. “We’re taking it one mile at a time and trying to make it to the 3- or 4-mile mark as a team. After that, it will depend on how we feel.”

Like the men’s team, the women’s team wasn’t satisfied with the results of the All-Ohio meet, where it finished fourth.

“Last week didn’t go as good as I expected,” freshman Audrey Maheu said. “I am using it as motivation this week.”

Maheu was the third women’s runner to cross the finish line, in 24th place. She was preceded by sophomore Kassandra Meholick, who finished 11th, and junior Kelly Gephart, who finished 13th.

Meholick has led Kent State in every race this season and was the top Kent State finisher at the 2007 MAC Championship. She hopes this week’s stiff competition will better prepare her for Nov. 1.

“It’s important to do well here since it’s the last meet before the MAC,” Meholick said. “This is a tough meet, so I’d personally like to see a top-25 finish.”

Croghan is pleased with what he has seen individually and hopes each runner can perform at his or her best this week.

“Last week we fell a little bit short,” Croghan said. “I thought we still had some great performances from an individual standpoint – now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Contact sports reporter Brittany Tatgenhorst at [email protected].