With their top five runners sitting out this meet, senior Cassie Kruse stepped up to lead the ‘Cats cross country team to a third-place finish at the Central Connecticut State Univeristy (CCSU) mini-meet on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Kruse finished 12th overall and completed the 3-kilometer course in 10-minutes, 8.17-seconds.  Following her effort was senior Amanda Szymanski (18th), junior Julie Shorter (25th), senior Alex Giese (30th), junior Riley Gilmore (35th) and sophomore Shannon Murdock (44th).
“We can run ten at the conference meet so, so we ran our six through 10 [runners] so some of our top runners were still running and there’s no pecking order,” head coach Robert Hoppler said. “The order of the group can change at any single meet, so it will be good to have everyone together for the conference meet.”
This meet was a good opportunity for the team to lay down a quick time in preparation for the conference championships on Oct. 29.  The ‘Cats will look to defend their America East dominance and their title, having won the last three consecutive championships.
“I’m very optimistic going into that [conference] meet.  I think we’ll have some good performances and have a good team performance as well,” Hoppler said. “It’s a competitive meet as always and there’s nothing guaranteed, there’s a number of good teams.”
Returning for the conference race will be junior Elinor Purrier, who won the race her sophomore year in 2014.  After not competing last season, she will be a top contender in this year’s race.
“She’s certainly strong.  She’s improved significantly since her sophomore year, so I’m never going to say anything is guaranteed but she certainly is in a really good place,” Hoppler said on his top runner.
Experience at the top level is something most of the team has already.  With many members returning from last year and also competing in track and field, they are no strangers to large competitive meets and performing under pressure.
“Trust in your training and trust in your ability,” Hoppler said when asked what he tells his team heading into these meets.     “We’ve run well all season long, we’ve training well and you bring it all together.  We have a lot of experience, not just in cross country but in track, so they know they can be competitive at the America East level, so we just have to go and run to our ability,” he said.
On the men’s side, junior Timothy Kenefick had a strong outing lead the ‘cats as he finished tenth at the CCSU mini-meet.  Kenefick raced to the time of 15:24.88 while UNH overall placed sixth out of 16 teams.
The rest of the varsity race consisted of sophomores and freshmen, with their six times ranging from 15:41 to 15:54 which is a decent pack to run in for a race like this.  Sophomores Brett Hoerner and William Ulrich placed 32nd and 34th respectively.  Freshman Joseph Murphy made large strides as he finished 38th with a time of 15:46.73, setting a new personal record for his 5-kilometer time by 32 seconds.
Most of the team ran well and comparatively better than the home opener on Sept. 3 in Durham.  CCSU and Durham have very similar flat and fast courses, making it an ideal race to compare times with.
“We were solid.  We had 12 guys under 16 minutes counting both races,” head coach Jim Boulanger said of his team’s effort. “19 of 21 had faster times than they did on Sept. 3, so [we’re] going in the right direction so we’ll see what next week brings.”
Plans for next week at the conference championship include a goal of top five in the conference.  Senior Mitchell Dutton and Kenefick will aim to be top-14 for all-conference honors, while the rest of the team will work to get everyone under the thirty-minute mark.
The Conference championships for both the men and women will be held at Jerusalem Mills Park in Baltimore on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Executive Editor