Baltimore, Md. - With the MAAC Championship Meet this weekend at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, the Greyhounds are looking to serve notice.
For the men's team, that means besting the fourth place finishes of 2004 and 2006, threatening an Iona program that is ranked fourth in the NCAA and uses its cross country team to make a splash on the national scene.
"This year, I think we can beat everyone else and get Iona's attention," head cross country coach Rick Woods said.
Leading the way for the `Hounds is junior Chris Heibell. At the NCAA Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., Heibell's 24:55 time in the 8K race beat the previous Loyola record by 11 seconds.
Heibell is looking to use a good performance at MAACs to catapult into a good showing at the NCAA Regional Meet, where a finish in the top 10 would all but guarantee him a spot in the National Meet.
"I've been feeling really good recently," Heibell said. "Our last meet in Indiana gave me a taste of what it will be like to run at Regionals. If all goes well I have a decent shot of qualifying for Nationals."
The MAAC Tournament scoring is based upon the finish of each team's top five runners, so Woods is expecting big things from his squad. Senior captain Brian Parker is the undisputed leader, while Woods says sophomore Terry Moran is "probably one of the gutsiest runners you'll ever see."
"Cross country is a big-time team sport," Woods said. "The fifth guy is just as important as the first, so it kind of hurt when we lost senior Gian Caccia to injury, but we still have high expectations."
The women, on the other hand, have scaled the mountain and are trying to get back on top.
Since winning the MAAC Championship in 2003, Loyola has posted third-, second-, and fourth-place finishes over the last three seasons.
The `Hounds are looking for something more this year.
"Again, Iona is their biggest competition, but if we have a gutsy day by everybody, we have a shot on winning this meet," he said.
A consistent performer all year, junior Maureen Wynne is the captain and will lead the way. Freshman Lindsay Wilson ran a fantastic race her last time out, finishing 42nd in the open race at Pre-Nationals.
"They have both been so good and if they perform like that again at MAACs, they should finish in the top three or four spots overall," Woods said.
Freshman Kate Cervo and junior Alex Salani have consistently been next in line, but the fifth-place finisher is much more difficult to predict for the Greyhounds and Woods says it will be largest factor in their final standing.
"Our placement will depend on who [our fifth-place runner] is and where she ends up in the field," he said. "That's the beauty of this team -- they don't care who No. 5 is, they just want to help each other out. They say `somebody step up and let's move on.'"
On to the top of the hill.
By Terry Foy