Friday, September 26, 2014

The Roy Griak Invitational X Country Meet-A Great Lakes Perspective

September 26, 2014. The 29th annual Roy Griak Invitational Cross Country Meet will be held tomorrow, Saturday, September 27, 2014 at the University of Minnesota's cross country course.

The Griak Invitational, along with the so called 'Battle in Beantown' hosted by Boston College, is viewed nationally as one of the two big meets kicking off the more serious part of the NCAA Division I Cross Country season. Up to this point the nationally competitive teams have mostly just been getting their early miles in and shaking off the dust from summer with some local races in their own area. Sometimes even races that sound like they should be a big deal and would attract national competitors like the National College Cross Country Championship, hosted by Notre Dame, are not because the traditionally powerful east coast Catholic universities like Providence,Villanova, and Georgetown often choose not to compete that early in the season. So starting with tomorrow's meet, we get our first view of many nationally competitive teams and individual runners going head to head.

At the beginning of the season, I had this penciled in as the first meet where we in the Great Lakers region would get our first serious look at both the Butler Men's and Women's cross country teams. Butler does not post a separate schedule for men and women so I assumed both teams would be in Minnesota. But when I checked the entry list, I found the Butler Women's team entered but not the
Butler placed third at the Roy Griak Invitational in 2013.
The Butler University Women's XC Team Placed Third in Last year's Meet

men. So, in keeping with my Great Lakes Cross Country focus, this entry will focus exclusively on the Women's race and what we are likely to learn about the Butler Bulldogs.

In 2013 The Dawgs followed the lead of Mara Olson and Katie Clark, who finished 4th and 7th respectively, to place 4 runners in the top 30 and race to a third place finish behind Arizona and Michigan. Unfortunately for Butler, Katie Clark and Kirsty Legg, who finished  26th, are both graduated. Olson is back and seems likely to place in the top 5 again this year but for Butler to have
Mara Olson
Mara Olson, helping Butler nail down the A10 League Championships in her Sophomore Season (2012)

another podium finish will require some other runners to step up. They will be counting on Katie Good (16th last year) to compete for a top ten finish. Three other returning runners, Olivia Platt,
Katie Good (right) and Kirsty Legg at the Bradley Intercollegiate.
Kirsty Legg [left] and Katie Good [right] striding out at the 2013 Bradley Open

Lauren Wood, and Colleen Wetherford will need to improve on last year's race to have Butler on the podium again. Pratt was 69th and Wetherford 71st. Lauren Wood, who  was Butler's second runner to finish in the Great Lakes Regionals last year, running right with Platt and ahead of Good and Wetherford, did not race in Roy Griak last year. The Dawgs will need all three to crack the top 50 (or at least be very close) to match last year's achievement.

The competition is different this year but presents a strong field as usual. Michigan and Arizona are gone but Michigan State (ranked 3rd nationally in the USTFCCCA poll and 1st by FloTrack) should have the lead pack. If one believes the USTFCCCA poll, Iowa State is next (9th), followed by Butler (11th) and then Boise State (20th), Vanderbilt 22nd, Minnesota 28th, and North Carolina 30th. But if FloTrack is your guide, North Carolina, 8th, is actually ahead of Butler, 9th, with Iowa State, 12th, just behind. Of course much of that is on paper. The actual fitness levels of most of the runners are not known. What is clear is that if anyone falters, there will be strong runners by the score poised to race past.

The individual race is expected to be primarily between Emma Bates (Boise State) and Shelby Houlihan (Arizona State) but cross country meets have a way of springing surprises. Certainly Olson should be in the hunt. The Butler website indicates Coach Matt Roe's belief "...that Olson is on a whole new level and is stronger than she was last year."

On that same website, Coach Matt Roe notes that Butler's top 6 runners are all healthy. But this will be their first race this season. The second six runners have had a couple of local outings but not the
Matt Roe, Butler Cross Country Coach

core of the team. Apparently Roe does not feel his runners need the shake out races as much as they do the training. Roe also stated, "We minimize racing to get as much training in (as we could). So that's what we did. We've gotten a solid month of training in beyond summer...if you race too much, you compromise." So no compromise from Butler; now we'll see what the team can do. It should be an exhilarating and revealing first race.

[The event is streamed live on FloPro but you will need to pony up for a membership, $149.99 for a year or $19.99 per month.]

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