Eastern Illinois’ cross-country team is preparing for one of its biggest events of the season as they will take on the Ohio Valley Conference Championship on Saturday in Murray, Ky.
This will be the first time the OVC Championship will be held in Murray since 2003.
The day will begin with the women’s 5K race at 9 a.m.; then, the men’s 8K race will start at 10 a.m.
Eastern Kentucky is the defending champion of those two races.
“We have trained all year for this meet,” junior Ivy Handley said. “I am expecting to run my heart out to help the Lady Panthers beat Eastern Kentucky and win conference.”
Handley will look to improve from last year’s OVC Championship, where she placed 19th with a time of 18:15.
Eastern Coach Erin Howarth has noticed how vital the depth of the women’s team is and believes they have a crucial advantage because of that.
“The past few meets have taught us that we are the deepest team in the area and arguably in the conference,” Howarth said.
As for the men’s team, there have been some bright spots with athletes exceeding expectations.
Howarth has been impressed by the emergence of sophomore Michael Brown.
“He has had a breakout season and has certainly turned heads this year,” Howarth said.
Eastern Kentucky is coming into the OVC Championship as heavy favorites, as their men’s team has won conference in nine consecutive years.
The Panthers realize how much of a threat Eastern Kentucky can be, but they understand what needs to be done to come out on top.
“Racing EKU the past few years has taught us that when they make their move, they are gone for good.” junior Riley Mclnerney said. “More than anything, we need to be ready for everything.”
Mclnerney has had his own share of success throughout this season as he has evolved as a leader on this team in his junior year.
“This year has taught me that I’m capable of going out with the leaders from the beginning, and that I can succeed,” Mclnerney said. “My confidence is higher than ever.”
Mclnerney is looking to improve on his 15th place finish in last year’s OVC Championship.
Team chemistry is an important part of the men’s success, as they continue to stress how vital it is to work together.
“Our team motto is, if you want to be an All-American, make your teammate an All-American,” Mclnerney said. “That has been the focal point of our success this year.”
Confidence is high for the cross country team, and everyone involved with the team believes that they can be successful on Saturday.
“We have a mentality that we are champions and fierce competitors,” Howarth said. “With no mental lapses mid-race, we can do anything.”
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]