The University of Connecticut women’s cross country team has its sights set on avenging its marginal loss at last season’s Big East Championship. After taking the runner-up spot behind Georgetown last year, the No. 5 ranked Huskies enter this season’s championship as overwhelming underdogs. With the blunders from the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational behind it, the team is primed to return to the top two following a promising season.
“We’re in a really good spot,” said assistant coach Patrick Peterson. “Wisconsin was a good place to make some mistakes; it was a big race for us since we haven’t had that big of a field. We didn’t run [poorly] but we didn’t put everything together.”
Despite falling outside the USTFCCCA National Coaches Poll Top 30 for the first time this season and previously peaking at No. 22, Peterson is confident there is no reason to be alarmed.
“It’s always cool to be ranked, but for us it’s more important to kinda compare how as a team we compete with other teams in our conference,” he said. “We’ve always been the underdogs just because we’re still growing.”
This year’s championship features three teams ranked inside the National Top 30, with No. 14 ranked Providence as the Big East front runner, followed by Georgetown and Butler, which are ranked at No. 26 and No. 29 respectively. UConn rounds out the Big East top five, trailing rival and 2019 champion Villanova.
“We have a much better chance of being in that top two,”’ Peterson said, “Providence is a very good team right now and on a good day we can beat them, but we also have to worry about Villanova, Georgetown and Butler because they keep showing up day in day out.”
This year’s turf, the Northview Church Course in Carmel, Indiana, promises to be water-logged, which might work in UConn’s favor.
“It’s going to be a very sloppy and muddy course but I think that benefits us as a team,” Peterson said. “We’re definitely a second half of the race team, so if the first half of the race is a bit slower, it keeps us in that race a lot longer, and we work off that momentum.”
Senior Mia Nahom is expected to lead the charge for UConn in this 11-team field. Nahom, who finished ninth in the last Big East race in the spring, has had a great fall campaign, leading the Huskies to two wins this season, and was UConn’s front runner at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational two weeks ago.
“The general team instruction is just to take risks, so with so many good teams in our conference, we can’t just go in and be like, ‘This is what we have to do to win,’” Peterson said. “We have to put ourselves in good positioning to do so.”
Freshman Chloe Thomas, a bright spot on the team, will line up in a field that includes teammates Randi Burr, Melissa Zammitti, Celia Chacko, Jenna Zydanowicz and Caroline Towle. The women’s race goes off at the Northview Church Course at 11:50 a.m. on Friday.