BETHLEHEM, Pa. – After two meetings in the 2022 season, the Mountain Hawks will participate in one of their most important meetings this year: the Lafayette Dual Meet. The Lehigh women’s cross country team will be the first program to compete this year against Lafayette and will host the Leopards at Friday’s Goodman Campus Cross Country Course in the Rivalry presented by the Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute. The women will run a 6K from 5:15 p.m. as they search for their 17th straight win over Lafayette.
“We’re particularly proud to be the first sport to face Lafayette in the year-long athletic division series,” said the head coach Debbie Utesch. “These athletes get to know each other. They compete in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field, so over the course of a four-year career, they compete against the same Lafayette student-athletes 12 times.
“If you’re seniors, you know these kids pretty well. I think for the early years it’s the beginning of the Lafayette sightings in our sport and for the seniors they’ve been lucky enough to win indoor, win outdoor and win cross country and they want to continue that.”
Two weeks ago, the Mountain Hawks opened the season by hosting the annual Lehigh Invitational. Lehigh finished second overall, with four runners finishing in the top 20. Senior Maddie Zaun took the lead for the Mountain Hawks, finishing sixth overall (22:06.3).
Last weekend, Lehigh traveled to University Park, Pennsylvania to attend Penn State’s Harry Groves Invitational. Junior Christina Jakaboski was a top finisher for the Mountain Hawks, finishing 29th with a time of 22:18.4. senior citizens Andrea Mueller (23:05.3) and Annalise Davis (23:05.5) were the second and third place finishers for Lehigh, finishing 48th and 49th, respectively.
Miller, along with the rest of her senior class, is taking on a variety of roles this year as they prepare to take on Lafayette. As a leader, Miller looks forward to seeing how her teammates fare on Friday.
“I’m excited and excited to see how we do as a full team as this is the first race we’ve all raced together this season,” said Miller. “It makes it very special that we can test our strength against Lafayette.
“Being unbeaten against Lafayette as a senior and having a 16-year winning streak on your back just motivates me even more to ride hard and get out of the doubles to be able to say we never lost to Lafayette.”
Ahead of Friday’s meeting against the Leopards, Utesch expects her seniors to step up in their final rivalry meeting of their cross-country careers.
“This is a group that has struggled through COVID and missed out on some opportunities for rivalry that traditionally they would have had. I think since this is a more traditional performance year, they want this to be the first of three wins over the course of the year between the cross-country, indoor and outdoor track,” Utesch said. “They’ve got big shoes to do the To replace student-athletes who came ahead of them in terms of victory.
“We were lucky enough to be on the W side of a 16-year winning streak, but we certainly won’t underestimate Lafayette,” Utesch continued. “We know they have good leaders. We know they have good runners in the first year, but so do we. We will be prepared for whatever they put up on the starting line and our goal is to continue the streak.”
While Lehigh’s seniors are familiar with the rivalry and tradition associated with competing against Lafayette, Utesch has made it his mission to educate the first years not only on the importance of the rivalry, but on the importance of receiving the Bryan Mundy Memorial Trophy to enlighten in Bethlehem.
The Bryan Mundy Memorial Trophy, presented to the winning teams after the meeting, was named for the Lehigh athletics graduate who tragically passed away in 2001. The trophy is used for cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field dual meets.
“Our goal is to keep the trophy at home in Lehigh, where we think it belongs,” said Utesch. “It’s a chance for the first years to really see what the tradition means, but the senior-level student-athletes really need to lead the way with the importance of this double-header.
“I often think because it’s a double meet it can be overlooked in its importance. It’s not one of those super mega invitational tournaments with 40 teams on the starting line. It’s just a head-to-head competition. You have to stay competitive and tough for your whole 6,000m because it’s really head-to-head. You can’t hide in the numbers of the mega meeting.”
Hear from our women’s cross-country team what makes our rivalry so special 🎥
— Lehigh TF & XC (@LehighTFXC) September 15, 2022
Though the dual-meet format differs from the typical format the Mountain Hawks are accustomed to, Lehigh will have a slight advantage over Lafayette by hosting the meet this Friday at the Goodman Campus Cross Country Course.
“They were able to come out on the track and work and have some strategic points that they will work through during the race,” continued Utesch. “It’s nice to be home and have that familiarity. They know the kind of races they have to do at their home circuit to challenge Lafayette for victory.”
While the Lehigh women’s cross country team will be the first team within the athletic division to face Lafayette this year, it won’t be the last time the Mountain Hawks face the Leopards in the 2022-23 school year. Lehigh will see Lafayette at at least two more cross country meets this season before the indoor and outdoor track season begins.
“The other thing is that every time they face Lafayette in the three sports, they’re three different sports,” Utesch said. “It may be the same athletes, but the role changes a bit. Competing in a cross country race is a little different than competing in an indoor event, and then they can turn around and compete in a completely different outdoor event. You can have a cross-country runner, an indoor miler, and an outdoor steeplechaser, and it’s all the same person.”
While the Mountain Hawks may change events and roles during the 2022-23 school year, their goal at the end of each doubleheader remains the same: beat Lafayette.