August 27, 2014

UNH Cross Country Teams Take A Test Against The Best Saturday

Call it the Meet of Champions, the UNH cross country coaches said with a laugh.

 Providence College and Holy Cross come to Durham on Saturday morning for UNH’s only home cross country meet of the season. The women get things started at 11 a.m. and the men take their turn at 11:45.

The Providence and UNH women each won multiple titles last year. The Wildcats grabbed the America East championship, which is goal number one each season, and also won the New Englands.

Give an edge to the Friars in titles, though. They won the Big East championship and then the NCAA Division I title.

So here’s the thing about this Saturday’s meet: UNH coaches Rob Hoppler for 15 years on the women’s side and Jim Boulanger for twice that many on the men’s, have brought in Providence, which year in and year out is the class of New England.

They bring in the Friars knowing full well the chances of beating them are slight. The men have not beaten Providence in that stretch and the UNH women have won once.

That’s not the point.

“Coach Boulanger started it with the men and then we began to do it, too,” Hoppler said. “It’s good for us to measure ourselves and our kids and see what we aspire to for the kids. We’ve been able to compete with Providence and it’s good for us to see what they do and find out where we stand from the beginning.”

Providence is a perennial power.

“If you want to see the best in New England, here’s the team,” Boulanger said. “The last 30 years, they’ve been by far the best in New England. The kids dream as much about beating Providence as I do.”

UNH may not be apt to win the meet, but the Wildcats have come close to the Friars in the past and the race has spurred them to great seasons both as a team and individually.

“I think it speaks to the philosophy of our team,” said senior co-captain Anne Twombly. “Hop has you run with the fastest kid on the team and push yourself to be up there with them. And that’s the kind of team we eventually want to be competitive with.”

The UNH women come into the season ranked No. 7 in the NCAA’s Division I Region 9, which includes teams throughout New England and New York. The men are No. 11.

Not all of the team’s runners compete in each meet, including this weekend’s, as the Wildcats prepare both individually and as a team for championship competition towards the end of the season.

Sophomore Elle Purrier of Vermont, who was sixth and a spot ahead of Twombly in the conference meet a year ago, ran late into the summer in the World Juniors and will sit out the Providence meet.

The ultimate goal is to qualify for the NCAA championships, but there’s much running to be done before then.

The Wildcat women had been runnerup three straight years in the America East meet before winning a second title last year to go with one they collected in 2003.

“That was a huge victory last year,” said Chelsey Serrano, the other senior co-captain. “To be able to do that again, even if we’ve done it before, doesn’t mean it’s automatic this year. We need to work hard, look forward, stay positive and train consistently.”

The America East championship is at Maine on Nov. 1.

John Prizzi won the conference meet last year and Jeff Moretti was eighth to lead the UNH men to a fourth-place finish. Prizzi and Moretti are back to lead the Wildcats as seniors this year.

XXX

The UNH football team is winless in four games against Toledo, its season-opening opponent on Saturday night at the Glass Bowl. The Wildcats lost games in 1947, 1948 and 1949 and then fell, 58-22, in 2011. . . . The women’s soccer team puts its 1-1 record up against Holy Cross on Thursday night at 7 on Bremner Field. UNH won its opener against Youngstown State, 1-0, in a tournament at the University of Vermont last weekend and lost its second game to Central Connecticut State, also 1-0. Holy Cross is 2-0 with a win at Siena, 3-0, and another at home against LIU-Brooklyn, 5-0.

 
 
Allen Lessels
 
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