The men and women’s team will travel to Indianapolis for the Big East Championship on Friday. The men’s team is coming off a 2nd place finish at the Leopard Invitational, meanwhile the women enter Friday after a 3rd place finish at the invitational. For head coach John Moon, currently in his 43rd season in that position, Friday’s meet, beyond all of the hype, is about finding improvement.
“You always want to improve on your position and times,” Moon said.
In terms of times, Moon is trying to get the men in the 25-26 mark in terms of minutes. The men will be aided in the fact that sophomore Victor Ricci and freshmen Jake Simon will return on Friday after being held out of the Leopard Invitational on Oct. 18 with injuries. Ricci and Simon last competed on Oct. 10 at the Metropolitan Championships in the five-mile, finishing with times of 28:50.1 and 30:02.5, respectively.
For the women, Moon says he is looking to get the women into the 21-22-minute range on Friday. One member of the women’s squad that will be competing in her first Big East championship is Middletown, New Jersey-native Christiana Rutkowski. Rutkowski enters coming off her second first-place finish. The freshmen finished with a 22:58.40 time in the 6K, besting her own previous record of 23:26.70 clocked at the Delaware Invitational on Sept. 13. She will be coming in on a high note with tons of excitement.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I really want to enjoy the whole experience. I know that as a team and individually, all of us are so ready to compete. We’ve been training since the beginning of July for this, and it’s almost November now and we’ve come such a long way.”
Her teammate and captain senior Mary Migton is also excited for her final chance to compete at the Big East championship. Migton finished at the Leopard Invitational with a 23:51.65 time, good enough for 5th place in the 6K. She admitted it’s surreal that her final season is winding down and is looking to finish strong.
“It’s been the most incredible four years of my life,” she said. “I’m so excited because this is a peak in our season.”
She added that she is expecting the team to step up ahead of Friday.
“We’re expecting everyone to step up to the plate and close gaps between runners,” Migton said.
The men too will head to Indiana with some runners facing the prospect of their final meet in the Big East, including the Walsh twins, who coach Moon praised.
The twins have been a dynamic duo for the men’s cross country team this season and maintained at Easton, P.a., for the Leopard Invitational, where Kevin Walsh clocked a 28:09.69 for a ninth place finish. His brother, John, had a first-place among Pirate runners with a 27:52.29 time in the 8K, and wants to continue finishing on top for the Hall.
“I just want to go out there and be in the top-five again,” he said. “Try and help this team.”
He also added that the team’s goal all season has been to be ‘the team’ in the Big East.
John Walsh noted Friday’s meet could be his last as a Seton Hall Pirate.
“It goes by so fast,” he said. “Every time I step to the line, I clear my head and think; this could possibly be my last race. You have to have that approach every race.”
Ryan Flannery, a junior, still has another year ahead of him and is coming off a top-five finish in the 8K at the team’s last meet, clocking a 28:32.00 time, but still wants to have a strong race at the Big East Championship, and sees this year’s crop as one that compete with the best.
“We have a lot to prove,” Flannery said. “I think this is the year that we can really start competing with teams, especially Marquette, DePaul, and Creighton. These teams are all equally as good as we are. It’s good that we peak at the Big East.”
Flannery added the team is heading into Friday’s meet with a “nothing to lose” mentality.
“We have to run with full energy, full heart, 100 percent,” he said. “We have to run as a pack. That’s what good teams do.”
He emphasized the importance of closing gaps too, something that can help them improve on a tournament that hasn’t quite favored the Pirates in recent years.
For Moon, the improvement has already been duly noted.
“It’s been a vast improvement,” he said. “The program is going in the right direction.”
Neal McHale can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @nealmchale.