The Ashland University cross country program will compete in Cedarville, Ohio, for the second time this season on Saturday (Nov. 4).
The stakes, however, are much higher this time, as the Eagles will be running in the regional championships.
Seven AU women and seven Eagle men are set to compete, but only junior Emily Schumaker and senior Tyler Lance have run at this annual meet in the past. Schumaker led the Eagles in 2016, coming in 98th of 220 runners with a 6K time of 23:06.94. Lance slotted himself 115th of 218 10K competitors in 33:21.15.
The Eagle men finished 10th of 31 last season, and the women placed 24th of 32.
The youth of this year's team has been no secret, as 19 of 31 athletes on the roster are freshmen. However, first-year head coach Jacob Sussman will not use that as an excuse.
"They've run enough 6Ks and 8Ks now," he said. "I think they're starting to come into their own and get their own individual race strategies down. Conference was a big indicator that they've definitely improved since the beginning."
The men earned fifth of 11 teams and the women seventh of 12 at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships on Oct. 21. Lance and sophomore Kyle Shively garnered all-conference honors with 15th and 20th-place finishes among 101 runners, respectively.
"The pressure is off at regionals," Sussman said. "You've already established yourself throughout the season, and you just go race. Conference is a little bit more stressful."
In order to automatically qualify for the national meet, teams much finish in third place or better, or an individual can qualify by placing among the top two runners not on a qualifying team. Eight at-large teams and eight at-large individuals across the country will be added to the national meet, as well.
Nationals are set to take place in Evansville, Ind., on Nov. 18.