Rutgers on its way to rebounding from rough 2016 season
The Rutgers women’s cross country team has a short, yet challenging schedule laid out for the remainder of the fall 2017 campaign. With only three appearances left before the Big Ten Championships in late October, the Scarlet Knights will look to make their mark early and remain competitive in a heated conference full of talent.
In 2016, Rutgers experienced mixed results as the season progressed. The team placed twice in the top-10 in the first two meets of the season, but were then brought back to earth at the end of September when it faced Big Ten competition at the Griak Invitational.
The Knights placed 32nd overall behind a plethora of serious competitors, including in-conference athletes from Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — all teams who would place top-5 overall at the Falcon Heights, Minnesota meet.
In October, Rutgers traveled to Fordham to defend its 2015 team title at the Metropolitan Indoor Championships. Despite having a mostly healthy roster, the Knights finished third overall in the Bronx, losing by over 30 points to the now-incumbent champion Rams.
The team licked its wounds for several weeks and hoped for a stronger finish at the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The young Knights gave a valiant effort, but ultimately ended with a whopping team overall score of 439.
In stark contrast, the new champion Michigan scored a stunning 63 team points.
Rutgers would then finish out its season at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Mid-Atlantic Regional with an uneventful 23rd overall team placement.
But not all is doom and gloom for this budding team. In 2017, there is hope yet for these Knights.
The team has already made significant headway after just its first meet, the Lehigh Invitational, where it placed second overall — a feat the team had not achieved all last season.
One of the bright spots on the roster is sophomore Nadia Saponara, who hopes to become a mainstay in the 2017 campaign. The second-year runner was thoroughly impressed with her team’s performance at Lehigh.
“It was our first meet. It was a way to feel out the course which is where we’re going to race at the NCAA Regionals. I was not expecting it to go so well,” Saponara said. “Towards the end, another girl and I started racing each other and pushing each other, and we crossed the line virtually at the same time.”
Saponara was referencing freshman Olympia Martin, who placed just ahead of the sophomore in the six-kilometer race.
Though Saponara acknowledged that Rutgers will face even fiercer competition down the stretch, she is confident the team is ready to step up in 2017. She continued to praise new blood on the roster like Martin, who she hopes will continue to force Rutgers to make that transitional leap this season.
“We have a lot of new freshman recruits, which I think is really going to help make our team a lot stronger. A lot of returning athletes are performing better than they were at this time last year,” she said. “Our team as a whole is going to be elevated. It’s really going to help pushing each other this season. I’m excited to see how we come together as a team.”
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