It may seem like a stretch to classify the best finish in 12 years as “frustrating,” but that’s what EMU cross country coach Jason Lewkowicz said about his women’s team last year. With some talented freshmen replacing the one top-7 runner lost from last year, Eastern Mennonite’s women have their eyes set on an ODAC Championship in 2014.
“Last season we were blessed with great talent but struggled with injury and illness,” said Lewkowicz. “Coupled with a lack of depth, it made for a frustrating season! However, we finished well with a runner-up ODAC finish and seventh place region finish, and both were improvements over the prior year.”
Not only have the Royals targeted their first ODAC crown since 2001, but Lewkowicz sees the possibility of something the Eastern Mennonite women have never accomplished – sending the entire team to the NCAA National Championships.
“I think we have the talent to push for a top-3 Region finish and perhaps advance as a team to the national meet,” he said. “At the very least, we are hoping to advance multiple runners to the NCAA championships. These are realistic goals, but it will take a lot of hard work, commitment, and health to get there.”
The Royals return junior Hannah Chappell-Dick (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton), who participated in her first national championship meet last fall. She was named All-ODAC First Team and All-South/Southeast Region along the way. Senior Lanae Kreider (Harrisonburg, Va./Broadway) was also All-ODAC Second Team and All-Region. Senior Katie Eckman (Quarryville, Pa./Solanco) and junior Jolee Paden (St. Joseph, Ill./St. Joseph-Odgen) earned All-ODAC Second Team accolades as well. The only loss from the top-7 was Krista Rittenhouse, who was one of the runners to battle through injuries in her senior season.
“I’m very excited about our new class of women,” said EMU’s fourth-year coach. “Kat Lehman (Dover, Ohio/Dover) was an All-State performer in both cross country and track during her senior year and she has the potential to be one of our top runners this year. Mary Eldridge (Gig Harbor, Wash./Peninsula) is another talented runner who experienced success in high school and will look to factor into our top-7. Megan Bishop (Blooming Glen, Pa./Christopher Dock) and Jessica Longenecker(Fredericksburg, Va./Courtland) both bring a lot of potential to the table and will be able to grow as runners under the leadership of the veterans.”
At last year’s ODAC Championships, Bridgewater College landed the top three runners to claim the team title before finishing third at the regional meet. The Royals must surpass their friendly rivals to hit their targets in 2014.
“The goal for this year is to win an ODAC championship and I think this is very realistic,” explained Lewkowicz. “We obviously have to knock off Bridgewater to do so, but we have the talent to get there. This group can also push for a top-3 region finish and send multiple individuals, if not the whole team, to the NCAA meet. In order to do this, we will have to stay healthy, focused and committed to doing all of the little things well that come with being a champion. I am excited to see what we are able to accomplish this season and the ladies will most definitely be exciting to watch!”
Lewkowicz pointed out that the early season races mean very little for his athletes other than to get them prepared for the handful of meets in November. With that in mind, he built a schedule heavy on repeat courses as well as layouts designed to encourage healthy bodies by season’s end.
The Royals are giving their local fans a double take of chances to see them run this year, as they will have two home meets at Elk Run Trails in Elkton. EMU co-hosts the Shenandoah Valley Invitational with Bridgewater on Sept. 20, and will also have a one-of-a-kind event on Oct. 10. On the Friday of EMU’s Homecoming Weekend, the Royals will host a relay challenge, featuring teams of four runners, with each athlete maneuvering a two-mile loop.
Guilford College is hosting the ODAC meets this year in Greensboro, N.C., with the Preview on Aug. 29 and the Championships on Nov. 1. The South/Southeast Regionals are in Rome, Ga., on Nov. 15, with the National Championships in Mason, Ohio, onNov. 22. In the expectation of sending runners to the national meet, Lewkowicz also scheduled the teams for the D-III Pre-Nationals, hosted by Wilmington College on Sept. 27 on the same course which will field nationals.
“To finally get to the point of having talent and strong depth is something we’ve been working towards for three years now,” Lewkowicz said. “We will address our goals during preseason week and then push them to the side as we continue about the hard work that it will take to reach those goals.”
He also pointed to higher goals than simply running a good race.
“Talent aside, we have a tremendous group of individuals on this team and they will be great representatives of EMU whether we are competing, serving others in the community, or engaging with others on campus,” he explained. “As with all of my past teams, my greatest hope is that we can collectively honor