Women's cross country shows improvement, prepares for Northeast regionals

The Orange came into the year young and leaderless, but SU fought its way to becoming a nice surprise in the ACC.

All year, head coach Chris Fox has been saying it would come down to peaking at the right time. It’s the reality of the cross country season, really — a couple of meets early in the year to earn points toward nationals, but everything culminating with a two-week span in November when the ACC and Northeast regional meets come around. The weeks and races rolled by, and Fox kept preaching: improvement.

Photo: Courtesy of SU Athletic Communications
Margo Malone running at the ACC Championships on Nov. 2.

“We’re really just worried about getting our work in and getting better,” he said after the Roy Griak Invitational in September.

“We’re trying to improve and hopefully hit our stride later in the year,” he said after an 11th place finish at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational a few weeks later.

At the ACC Championship on Nov. 2 that work began to pay off, and Fox saw a team that had entered the year a bit inexperienced but that is hitting its stride when it matters most.

The Orange placed third in the meet, finishing behind only No. 5 Florida State and No. 11 Virginia. It was the culmination of a year full of improvement coming off of a disappointing 2012 season. With only a handful of upperclassmen leading the way, the Orange vaulted itself back among the top 20 teams in the country, with plenty of promise for the future.

“With every week, we’re just gaining a lot of confidence,” junior Jessie Petersen said. “That’s something we sort of lacked after last year, but now with everyone stepping up we believe we can compete with anybody.”

Fox isn’t deviating from that same old script, though.

“I think we started out running just OK,” he said. “But slowly we’ve gotten better and better each week, and I think now we’re starting to see how good we can be. We try to improve everyday, and hopefully it works out.”

Margo Malone leads the resurgence — a sophomore who struggled last year after entering with big expectations. But Malone has had a string of strong performances in the last few weeks, and she paced the Orange in the ACC Championship. She finished ninth overall earning all-ACC honors, and appears poised to fill the role of top dog vacated by the graduation of Sarah Pagano last year.

“It’s always important to have a number one guy,” Fox said. “You always need that person who can pace you as a team. I think Margo’s come in and handled that responsibility really well. She understands her role, and she understands what it takes to succeed.”

But the Orange’s biggest tests are still ahead: The team has a week off before heading to New York City for the Northeast regional. SU is ranked third in the region heading into the race, which serves as the last chance to qualify for nationals later in the year. The end of the year will be a test of Syracuse’s maturity, its ability to handle success and continue to keep improving, week-by-week, practice-by-practice.

“I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by our maturity,” Fox said. “I think we started out as a bit of a leaderless team. But a lot of different girls have stepped up, and we’ve really stuck to what we want to do as a program.”

Another week, another step forward.

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