Sophomore Danielle Bessette and the women's cross-country team will attend an invitational at SUNY Brockport this weekend. Campus Times Archives.

As their season opener this Saturday at SUNY Brockport looms ever closer, one goal resounds in the collective thoughts of the UR cross country team: Improve.

In 2010, the Yellowjacket men capped their season with a 17th place finish (out of 32 teams) at the NCAA National Championship Meet in their first appearance in the competition since 1996. Far from resting on their laurels, however, the returning runners approach the 2011 season with the attitude of improving their finish at the national meet and proving that UR cross country is far from a flash in the pan.

The Yellowjackets return a strong squad this year, including four of the eight runners who competed at nationals last year (sophomore Adam Pacheck, Take Five Scholar Frank Ramirez, and seniors Jason Zayac and All-American Jamie Vavra. who earned the honor with his 28th place finish at the NCAA Championships last fall) along with an extensive supporting cast of talented veterans and incoming freshmen.

The road to a more prestigious finish in 2011 will not, however, be an easy one.  The men’s team is ranked fifth regionally and 35th nationally in the preseason poll, and will need to propel themselves past a plethora of perennial powerhouses such as New York University, St. Lawrence, and SUNY Geneseo to secure a higher finish this season.

The women’s cross country team also looks to improve its standing in 2011.  The team returns two seniors, Lauren Norton and Hillary Snyder, who have individually qualified for the NCAA meet in the past. Juniors Zarah Quinn and Meg Ogle and sophomore Danielle Bessette return from strong outdoor track showings to round out the team’s talented top five.

While considered an underdog due to a string of injuries late in the 2010 season, the return of the majority of last year’s team—along with a very talented incoming freshman class—gives the lady Yellowjackets the strength to surprise many of the highly ranked teams in 2011.

For both teams, the achievement of their goals relies heavily on exemplary performances at the Brooks Paul Short Run in September, the UAA championships in October and the Atlantic Regional meet in early November. While the Yellowjackets face a difficult season, the combined skill and dedication of the runners and coaches Carl Johnston, John Izzo, Sam Albert and Barb Hartwig augur a favorable outcome to the 2011 season.

They all look forward to this weekend’s meet against RIT and Brockport as the first step on the long path to making UR Cross Country ever better.

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