BY KATHLEEN STUBBS
The Franciscan men’s and women’s cross country teams showed marked improvement Friday at Notre Dame’s 35th annual National Catholic Cross Country Championship compared to their performance at the same meet last year.
Head coach Daniel Kuebler said the Lady Barons had better placement in the varsity race compared to last year.
Several members of the women’s team got PRs – or personal records. Kuebler noted that senior Kaitlin Hoffman had an outstanding performance with a lifetime PR for the 5K.
“Of all people who ran yesterday, Kaitlin probably had the best race of everybody, relatively speaking,” Kuebler said. “She had the best PR, she ran really strong. For a team captain and a senior, it’s nice to see that.”
Senior Elise Zajicek also improved a lot since she first started cross country at Franciscan. This is Zajicek’s fourth consecutive season running cross country with the Lady Barons.
“Elise has shown a lot of improvement,” said Kuebler. “I think we’ll still see more improvement for her this last year. She’s been really looking strong at practice, and I think she’ll be really strong at conference.”
Kuebler continued by elaborating on how the women performed. “Six of nine women ran their best 5K, lot of fast times for most of them.”
The Franciscan men’s and women’s cross country teams utilize the racing strategy of running in packs, or multiple teammates keeping the same pace. Kuebler is confident that the teams’ hard work in pack-running has produced positive results and will continue to pay off this season.
Kuebler said he was happy with the packs of the women’s team, namely Franciscan’s third through ninth top runners, including Hoffman, Zajicek, and freshman Francesca Santos.
“I think runners three through nine were much more tightly packed this weekend,” Kuebler said. “I think that’s always because runners like Kaitlin, Francesca and Elise have been really getting strong over the past few weeks and the pack is getting tighter and tighter.”
The top five Barons finished with less than 1 minute between them, said Kuebler. When the top runners are close together time-wise, the team’s place overall tends to improve. Kuebler said the men’s team placed much better this year than last year.
“This year the team was 14th out of 24, while last year we were 21st out of 25,” Kuebler said.
Kuebler said the men got good times this year, and was happy with how the Barons did as a group.
“It’s sort of been the standard,” he said. “We have five guys under 29 (minutes) or close to that, and we have not been able to get that at Notre Dame in a while.”
Freshmen Tim Jackson and Graham Martin were among the Franciscan men’s top five runners. Kuebler was impressed at their performance despite being underclassmen.
“The freshmen are continuing to really impress (me),” said Kuebler. “Tim Jackson and Graham both PRs (at Notre Dame). Graham was the second guy on the team. The pack continues to be really tight-knit.”
After competing in a race with division 1 and division 2 teams, the men’s and women’s cross country teams, which are division 3, will return to two weeks of practices before the All-Ohio meet in Cedarville, Ohio.