Rutgers looks to rebound from poor showing at Big Ten Championships at Regional meet

The Rutgers women’s cross country team will be faced with its biggest challenge of the season at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Cross Country Championships 6-kilometer race at the Goodman Campus Cross Country Course in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Friday, Nov. 10.

The 6-kilometer will mark the Scarlet Knights’ third appearance at the course since the start of the 2017 campaign. The team previously raced at the course during the Lehigh Invitational and Paul Short Run 6-kilometers in September.

Rutgers will face highly competitive Mid-Atlantic Region programs, such as No. 9 Villanova, last year’s champion No. 19 Penn State, No. 27 Georgetown and other prominent teams like West Virginia and Princeton — both of which are ranked within the top-five in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Rankings.

Last year, the Knights placed 23rd overall in a packed field of 28 teams with an average time of 23:04 and 633 points overall. No. 15 Penn State earned its second consecutive Mid-Atlantic Championship, averaging the course in 20:31 and accumulating 36 points overall. Villanova (93 points) and Penn (99 points) rounded out the top-three, averaging a time of 21:04 and 21:05, respectively.

While Rutgers has its work cut out for it, the roster has performed admirably at the Goodman Campus Course since the start of the season.

At the Lehigh Invitational in September, the very first meet of the season, the Knights placed second overall and averaged a time of 22:31. Later in the month, Rutgers placed 37th overall at the 44th-annual Paul Short Run but managed an average time of 22:03.

The team’s Paul Short average shed over a full-minute from its 2016 Mid-Atlantic Regionals effort, and nearly 30 seconds from the Lehigh Invitational over a span of only four weeks.

For senior Alexandra Juzwiak, a seasoned Rutgers runner, the expectation is to perform even better at the Goodman Campus Course this Friday.

Juzwiak was not bothered by the prospect of facing competition that will likely be even tougher than what her team faced at the Big Ten Championships last month. She remained assured that the two races at Lehigh have adequately prepared the Knights for the challenge ahead.

“We feel very confident. We all know where those turns are now (at Goodman),” Juzwiak said. “I know a lot of us have individual goals to finish under certain times. We feel confident we can cut down and get that much faster.”

Juzwiak, who placed 120th overall (22:49.6) at last year’s Mid-Atlantic Regional in Princeton, said that the team has taken on its own persona this season, especially as the roster has relied heavily on its younger freshmen and sophomore runners.

The senior also elaborated on how the Knights are using other teams as a sort-of competitive edge in pushing each other along the trail.

“We’re looking for points at any time that we can get them. We’re trying to get motivation to race with other people and pass them as best we can,” she said. “We have some experience doing that from Big Ten, but we really want to be able to push each other and get closer.”

The senior also acknowledged the age of the team, which has six freshmen and five sophomores that make up the bulk of its roster. Freshman Olympia Martin led the squad over the first three races and has not placed lower than third among her peers all season.

Other younger runners like sophomores Nadia Saponara and Lou Miahle are clearly leading, alongside Martin, the future core of the roster.

Juzwiak said that the future of the program remains bright, and she estimated that Rutgers can leapfrog other regional competition in the years ahead.

“I’ve noticed that this is a really young team. We’ve really progressed especially towards the end of the season. Everyone has been able to improve their times,” she said. “These the past few weeks we’ve shown a lot of progress in our workouts. We’re ready for the race. Whatever the outcome is, our team has really shown strong performances in the workouts and we’re maintaining that mentality in every race going forward.”

For updates on the Rutgers women's cross country and track and field teams, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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