By ANDREW JOHNSON
Although lacrosse tends to occupy much of the athletics spotlight at Johns Hopkins University, the men’s and women’s cross-country teams have built an equally unparalleled record of grandiose achievements and consistent championship level performance.
The women’s team has won seven straight Centennial Conference Championships. The men won most recently in 2013 and followed up with a strong second place finish in 2014, trailing behind only perennial power Haverford College Fords in the conference standings.
The women’s team has also won three straight national titles with three of their top five runners returning from a dominant 2014 campaign.
The Lady Jays appear primed to repeat their string of recent dominance, according to the Centennial Conference coaches.
The Hopkins women were picked to win the Centennial by eight of the nine conference coaches in their preseason poll, finishing with 81 points. The Dickinson College Red Devils were slated second with one first place vote and 70 points while Haverford, the Swarthmore Garnets and the Muhlenberg Mules rounded out the top five.
The Lady Jays return five all-conference runners from last season, including four first team standouts. Two sisters on the team, junior Sophia and sophomore Tess Meehan, were both All-Americans last year and expect to contribute significantly to the success of the Lady Jays this upcoming fall.
When asked to comment on expectations and goals for the upcoming season, standout Sophia Meehan mentioned that the scheduled slate would feature some especially rigorous competition to help the group focus in the early portion of the slate.
“This season we have a very competitive schedule with a lot of fun travel trips lined up to get the team ready and excited for hopefully another successful season,” Meehan said. “We will be competing at Iona and at Paul Short (Lehigh) which will have a lot of great D-I teams and a few top D-III teams. We will also be traveling to Disney with a group of about ten girls in late October. Even though the meet does not have the same caliber of competition, it will be an awesome way to keep the girls motivated and working hard in order to make that travel team.”
Tess Meehan, coming off of a brilliant freshman campaign for the Lady Jays, added that another conference and national title is certainly attainable given the cohesiveness of the squad, significant strides made by returning runners and a gifted crop of freshmen.
“I definitely think these goals are attainable given the amazing class of freshmen we have this year and the number of upperclassmen girls who have really stepped up coming into this year,” the younger Meehan said. “Jordan Delane and Courtney Kelly have both improved dramatically over the summer and senior Caroline Powers is coming back after a really amazing junior season and is sure to improve upon her success from last year. Sophomore Bridget Gottlieb as well is sure to make an impact.”
Gottlieb also offered some additional insights, noting that a key for this team will be to mentor and develop the many talented freshman that were welcomed to Hopkins in the fall.
Being a standout freshman herself just one season prior, Gottlieb certainly recognizes the importance of mentoring and encouragement on the development of young runners.
“Some personal expectations for myself are that I want to be welcoming and help the freshmen as much as I can, just as the upperclassmen really helped me last year transition into college running,” Gottlieb said.
The men’s cross-country team also has significant goals for their season, and the Centennial Coaches were unanimous in their thinking that the Jays will be a serious contender for the Centennial Crown this fall.
Hopkins was picked second in the coaches’ preseason poll, receiving four first place votes and 60 points, just one first place vote and one point behind favorite Haverford College.
Haverford is a traditional Centennial Conference power, with 19 titles including four of the last five. However, hopes among the men are high that Hopkins will be able to break through and usurp Haverford from their throne this year, like they did as recently as 2013.
Key to the Jays’ season will be decorated senior captain Schaffer Ochstein, who placed eighth in the Centennial Conference Championships last season.
Schaffer stressed running together as a team and shortening the distance between the first and fifth runner as being the primary focus point for the season and perhaps the one strategy which will push Hopkins closer to their goal of a championship.
“We would love to win conference and get back the trophy after we lost it last year,” Schaffer said. “In order to do that the team is going to have to focus on running together during races. This tactic allows us to use each others’ energy. In cross-country the team is only as strong as the fifth guy; therefore the time difference between our first and fifth guy needs to be as small as possible, while our top guy is in the mix with the leaders of the race. Running together will decrease this time difference.”
Just as on the women’s side, the incoming freshmen will be vital to the ultimate success of the season. Freshman Liam Wall is already impressed by the closeness of the squad.
“I’ve only been on campus for two weeks, but I’ve already made friends with an amazing group of people,” Wall said.
The senior leadership can certainly be attributed to this cohesiveness, and Schaffer noted that he is trying his best to be a passionate and outspoken source of inspiration and confidence for his squad.
“As a senior captain on the team my focus this year is to lead the team to its most successful season in Hopkins’ history,” Schaffer said. “Doing so means being a vocal leader as well as leading by example. This is my last season of cross-country, so I want to have a great season.”
Both the men’s and women’s squads kick off their season at Stevenson on Sept. 1.