By Coburn Gillies, For The Miami Student
The Miami University cross country team makes the trek up north to Akron, Ohio to compete in the Mid-American Conference championship Saturday.
Senior captain Joe Stewart leads the RedHawks, setting new personal records at his last two meets and picking up the All-Ohio Championships title Oct. 2.
At last season's MAC championship meet, MU finished seventh with 181 points. This year, the team is aiming higher.
"We want to finish in the top three," Stewart said. "It's been awhile since we finished that high. Getting a podium spot should be our main goal at this meet."
On the women's side, senior captain Laura Bess leads the 'Hawks as Miami's top finisher at all four meets this season. She enters the championships after posting a new personal best time at the Pre-National Invitational two weeks ago.
Miami finished third with 103 points at last year's championship.
"We got top three last year," Bess said. "If we could aim for a top-3 finish, that would be great. If we all run a PR and we all run well and we don't win, it will be considered a good day."
University of Akron, State University of New York at Buffalo, Bowling Green State University, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Kent State University, Ohio University and University of Toledo will compete against Miami's men's team.
The women's race features Akron, Ball State University, BGSU, Buffalo, CMU, EMU, Kent State, Northern Illinois University, OU, Toledo and Western Michigan University.
Bess said the RedHawks have a strong chance to win the competition against such a field of teams.
"The MAC meet is always fairly wide open," she said. "I remember in 2012 when nobody thought we would win, yet, we won by three points. However, this year I see the meet being even more open than ever."
Stewart said Eastern Michigan and Akron are the two "powerhouses" Miami aims to beat. The MAC championship is one of the season's most important races, so Stewart said it's important to go in with a game plan.
"As a team, it's gonna be the idea of going down there and executing the race plan, like sticking to the pack of guys," he said. "Individually, I just want to put myself out there and see what happens."
Pack-running has been the calling card of this Miami team all year long, but the RedHawks don't appear to be the only team that utilizes this strategy.
"Bowling Green is definitely a team to watch," Stewart said. "They are exceptional pack-runners. Our biggest challenge will be breaking up their pack."
Trusting in teammates is another factor.
"Coach Wood has really emphasized this past week that we should lean on our teammates," Bess said. "Doing this can help the runners who don't have the confidence to run in the packs that are higher up. It encourages them."
Bess said the team has to "overcome a lot" because of this year's coaching change, but the team is prepared for the weekend. Stewart agreed.
"I think we are ready," Stewart said. "Everyone seems ready. I think they're really going to get out after it on Saturday."
The men's 8K race begins at 11 a.m., and the women's 6K race begins at noon in Akron, Ohio.