Picked in the recent Preseason Coaches’ Poll to finish eighth out of 17 teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) standings, a seasoned Slippery Rock University women’s cross country squad will begin its 2018 season this weekend.
The team finished in seventh place in the PSAC Championships in 2017 and returns four runners that competed in last fall’s race.
Senior Sabrina Palmieri opened last season by placing sixth in the Marty Uher Invitational hosted by California University of Pennsylvania and returned to the same course in October to earn second-team All-PSAC honors with by finishing in 23rd-place. She returns this season as one of the leaders of the team.
“[Sabrina]’s been running up front with everything we have done in practice, so I would assume that she is going to be running number one for us,” the team’s head coach of 32 years, John Papa said. “She made a breakthrough last year, was all-conference. And this year, I think she’s going to take a big step forward. She’s definitely been training passionately for this season, so she’s in as good of shape as anybody.”
Also returning for her senior year is Madison Przicina, who notched three top-50 finishes last season, one of them coming as she just missed out on the top ten at the opening invitational.
Papa has also been impressed this offseason by two members of the team’s junior class. Kacey Raible, who will be running for her second season with the team, clocked her last season’s best time at the PSAC Championships, finishing at 26:24.8. Serving as the Rock’s seventh runner at the 2017 NCAA Atlantic Region Championships, Emily Johnson also had her season-best time at a championship meet, crossing the finish line at 24:34.7.
Of those four ladies, along with senior Paige Diehl and juniors Hannah Kenawell and Jill Norris, Papa said, “I think those upperclassmen are going to be the leaders for us and dominate in a lot of our top-ten spots.”
The team begins intercollegiate competition in Edinboro this Saturday for the Doug Watts Duals. The reigning conference champions will also host the Championships this October. Papa sees the meet as an opportunity to learn the course.
“We’re going up there to get on that course, to learn it, to give it a good effort,” Papa said. “And we also, just like the men, I think we’re going to surprise some people. Many of our ladies have improved tremendously.”
The team will break in a new course this season at the Lawrence County Fairgrounds. It took a good deal of work in the summer to prepare the course, which cuts through the woods.
“We had to make some new trails and cut right through the woods. That took a lot more work than one would think with stumps and grounds, and we built a bridge,” Papa said. “Half of the course is out flat, out in the open, you just need to lawn mow it and look for little gopher holes and that kind of thing. The other half needed a lot of attention. We’re hoping to one day host a lot of big events out there and do kind of what we did out there at Cooper’s Lake.”
The team will host a total of five collegiate meets this season, including both the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional and National Championships.