With the end of the season looming, the Rutgers men’s cross country team will make the trip to Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the Mid-Atlantic Regionals. This race has been on the mind of the team for the entire season.
“Regionals is the race that we’ve been training for since the beginning of the summer,” said junior Patrick Walsh.
By race-time on Friday, the Scarlet Knights will have had nearly two weeks to sort out what led to a last place finish at the Big Ten Championships. During the team's time between races, the excitement could be felt.
“The team is ready to go,” Walsh said. “The team is really excited to compete on the biggest stage of the season.”
Rutgers ran its last race, the Big Ten Championships, with a speedy start but nothing more. As the race went on, the Knights began to fall.
“It could’ve been a mental thing … we settled too much,” said senior Cole Pschunder.
Walsh said head coach Mike Mulqueen is constantly going back to his mantra to fix that issue.
“Coach is just reminding us that we are in good shape and that we need to execute.”
Rutgers will make the trip to Lehigh for the second time this season. The Knights kicked off this year’s campaign by taking second place in the Lehigh Invitational. Rutgers will have its first chance to exact revenge on the only team to finish ahead of it back on August 30th, which was the Mountain Hawks.
There are key differences between the races at Lehigh this year. The Lehigh Invitational was only a 6-kilometer race, while the Regionals race is 10 kilometers. Additionally, the Knights will have to compete in a field of 27 schools, including the other Mid-Atlantic Big Ten school, Penn State. There are numerous teams in the lineup Rutgers has yet to face. But, several, including New Jersey Institute of Technology, have seen action against the Knights this year.
Before the race, Mulqueen will have to choose who to add to the group that will take the starting line on Friday. Walsh isn’t worried about who the last minute additions will be, though.
“We still don’t know who the other three runners are … but I am confident with any of those 15 guys because of how hard they work and how talented they are.”
After practicing together for an entire season, the team is ready for the spotlight and Walsh wants to feed from that energy.
“At this stage in the season, the team needs to take what is ours and just fight for not only ourselves but for the team.”
The past few weeks, Rutgers has funneled that energy into focusing on the upcoming championship races at practice.
"It’s a whole new world,” Walsh said. “When we hit these big races late in the season, there is a different energy at practice and the excitement among the team is contagious.”
Regionals is more than just a race for the Knights in Walsh’s mind, though.
"It’s important for our top guys to stick their heads in with the top group and send a message to the Mid-Atlantic Region that we belong.”
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