Rutgers heads to Minnesota to compete in Big Ten Championships
The Rutgers men’s cross-country team has had a pretty solid season so far.
It has been consistently performing well at every meet, producing great all-around results the last time they competed. But now they face their biggest test of the season as they travel to Falcon Heights, Minnesota, to compete in the Big Ten Championships Sunday.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a stellar performance at the Princeton Invitational two weeks ago. Although they finished sixth overall, what stood out was the individual performances, as multiple athletes recorded their fastest times of the season.
Thanks to their performance at Princeton, the team moved up from 12th to ninth in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Mid-Atlantic regional ranking, the highest they have been ranked this year.
“Historically speaking, this is the best we’ve competed in these past two meets in years,” said junior Luke Wiley. “The conference level is really high and we’re moving up in the regional rankings. It’s something that we’re all working really hard to achieve, and I think it’s showing in the way that we feel after races.”
Now they take their ranking into a matchup with 11 other schools who are also ranked in the top 15 in their regions, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State, who are all ranked among the top 30 teams in the country.
Despite the steep competition, the squad is not worried about the pressure.
“Our goal is to race as a team like we have (been) doing all year and compete tough,” said head coach Mike Mulqueen.
Rutgers certainly has the right pieces to make some noise in Minnesota. One of them is sophomore Conor Murphy, who was the team’s top performer in Princeton, finishing in 20th.
“We’ve been training hard in preparation for this meet, so I’m looking forward to racing there and I think we’re going to do well,” Murphy said. “The plan for us is to peak at the most important meets, which start this weekend. We need to build up our fitness to make sure we’re in the best shape that we possibly can be in. I think we should see results that we want.”
Another player that has stood out all year for the Knights is Dominick Munson. The sophomore recorded his fastest time of the season in Princeton, and hopes he and the team can build upon their successes.
“I’d love to be in the top 40,” Munson said. “If me, Conor and our next three guys can all be in the top 50, I think we can pick off a couple teams.”
Munson also noted that he probably won’t be able to run as fast as he did last week due to the hilly course, so it gives him more incentive to focus on placing well rather than trying to break personal records.
Outside of Murphy and Munson, junior Trent Brinkofski, senior Nick Price and junior Alex Livernois have all put up solid results all season long, and hope to continue their consistency.
“We’ve been running faster than we ever have before, and we’ve been doing it as a team,” Brinkofski said. “Our last team’s performance was probably better than what the team has seen in years.”
Rutgers boasts a lot of talent on its roster, to the point that any runner can beat any other runner on any given day. And while they might not be the best team in the Big Ten, the training that they have been doing has turned them into a tight-knit team that can definitely keep up with any team when they perform at their peak.
The overall attitude of the team is that they are a strong and cohesive bunch.
“We know we’re in shape, we know we have the fitness and we’ve raced really well as a team so far this year,” Munson said. “I think we keep surprising people, and we’re ready to show people what we’re made of.”
One can call the Knights underdogs in the Big Ten, one of the best cross-country conferences in the country, but that doesn’t mean that they should be counted out.
Based on their season so far, they are definitely capable of making waves, and performing well on a conference level will definitely boost their reputation and potentially put them on the map.
“We’re definitely all very confident,” Brinkofski said. “We just want to keep improving and get better and show that we can be a better team in the Big Ten, so it’s really fun right now.”
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