Seven ranked teams present challenge at Champs
The Big East has seven teams ranked in the women’s cross country top 30, and each squad presents a challenge to the Rutgers women’s cross country team this weekend at the Big East Championships.
“It’s going to be tough,” said head coach James Robinson. “But they have responded in a positive way to the training and the races, so we feel good about what they are capable of.”
The race, held in Louisville, Ky., pits the women against last year’s champion Villanova along with powerhouse programs such as Georgetown, Syracuse and Providence.
While the team’s challenge is unyielding, the Knights turned in an impressive showing this year under Robinson.
With accomplishments ranging from capturing the Connecticut College Invitational and placing second in the Metropolitan Championships, assistant coach Jan Merrill-Moran credits the team’s determination and dedication.
She cites it as a key component to Rutgers’ success this season.
“The training has been going really well, and I hope to see everyone make a big improvement from last year,” Moran said. “If you compare where they placed and their times from last year, there is going to be an improvement factor. We are as ready as we can be for the Big East.”
For the Knights to succeed this weekend, the team looks for Brianna Deming and Anjelica Brinkofski to lead the way.
Both runners were lynchpins for the team’s recent success and both competed well individually. Deming has one individual race title under her belt while Brinkofski placed in the top 10 in her past two races.
“We’ve been getting consistent and now we are focusing on the training and gaining a lot of energy for this race,” Brinkofski said. “We are really confident we are going into it better than last year so we will hopefully place top 10 as a team.”
Much like the women, the men also look to improve from their efforts last year, when both teams finished in 11th place.
The Knights face a similar challenge as the Big East boasts three teams ranked in the top 30 on the men’s side, with Providence tabbed as an early favorite.
The men’s team experienced success, as well, including a third-place finish at the Leeber Invitational.
The Knights enter the race off a sixth-place finish at the Metropolitan Championships.
Sophomore Chris Banafato and senior Ben Forrest look to pace the Knights, as both consistently finish among the team’s top runners.
Banafato, the team’s most consistent runner, plans to improve on his highest finish from last year’s conference championships at Syracuse. His finishing time of 28:24.3 was good for 74th in the event.
For Forrest, the event marks his final championship appearance as he looks to finish in the upper half of runners and take a step up from his 79th-place finish last year.
As both teams prepare for the biggest race of the season, Robinson knows his team works hard and believes the Knights will fare well.
“They’ve progressed each week and half the team is running personal best every week,” said Robinson. “It’s going to be tough, but they have an opportunity to run pretty fast and do well.”