Women travel down Main Line to begin season

Leslie Combs

Keeping with tradition, the women begin their fall cross country campaign just down the Main Line at Haverford College today. The dual meet against their local rivals is the first chance the Wildcats have to live up to their top-20 preseason national ranking. After placing 24th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last November, the women have climbed up to 16th place in the FinishLynx NCAA Divison I Cross Country Poll. The return of the five scoring runners from Nationals last fall is the main reason behind Villanova’s rise in the rankings in 2002.

In the absence of seniors on the ‘Cats squad, juniors Rebecca Mitchell and Carre Joyce are taking on the leadership rolls, while the sophomore class is stepping up into its roll as upperclassmen on the team.

After a promising inaugural season the sophomores, led by Kailin Toedebusch, Ioana Parusheva and Kirsty Smith, now have the experience they need to run in the competitive Big East.

The final ingredient pointing towards Villanova’s success on the national scene this year is the addition of its freshmen class. Bridget Akard, Elizabeth Gesel and Marina Muncan all are poised and ready to contribute points on the courses.

Head coach Gina Procaccio does not have her lineup set in stone for the season, and will use the early races to determine the roster for the more important later course dates.

“Everyone comes in with a lot of talent,” Mitchell explained. “Anyone could be the top seven. A couple of good freshmen add quite a bit too.”

The success or failure in the first few races is not so important, as long as the women gain the experience they need for the Big East, Regionals and, the pinnacle, the Nationals.

“None of the early races matter,” Mitchell said. “The only thing that matters is what you do at the end.”

What matters to the ‘Cats this year is improving upon their fifth place standings at Big East last year and maintain their momentum until Nationals. The women will continue their mileage and workouts throughout the early fall, hoping to result in a prolonged peak for the last month of the season.

With no serious injuries plaguing ‘Nova this fall thus far, the team is confident that success will follow the young, but experienced runners.

“We expect a lot out of our team,” Mitchell said. “The only pressure we feel is what we expect of ourselves.”

The ‘Cats will have their first chance to put their expectations to the test when the gun goes off at 5 p.m. today.