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This season, the women’s cross country team has three goals: win the Great Midwest Ath­letic Con­ference, qualify at the Midwest Regional Cham­pi­onships, and stand on the NCAA podium.

The team will begin the race toward these goals Friday at the Spartan Invite at Michigan State Uni­versity, in the first of three races where the women accu­mulate points toward cham­pi­onship season — the last three meets of the six-meet season.  

“Everyone has been working hard,” team captain senior Andie Bodary said. “The first meet is always good to see how the team is looking and where other teams are at.”

The new team has three weeks of training under its belt, so the focus for the weekend is “14 pushing one,” said assistant coach Samantha Kearney. At the meet, the team will work on getting its bearings and seeing how well everyone works together.

One struc­tural change makes this season dif­ferent from pre­vious years.

“There’s more emphasis on head-to-head com­pe­tition,” said head coach Andrew Towne ’04. “It’s the first year it’s this way. You have to use a com­puter: It’s a little more accurate, and a little more com­pli­cated.”

Up until this year, eight of the 32 qual­i­fying teams were chosen at-large based on regional rep­re­sen­tation in the NCAA the year before.

This meant the 2016 – 17 team could qualify for cham­pi­onships despite placing fifth because the 2015 – 16 team earned a spot for a team from the region by placing third.

“Last year, we were down from what we were accus­tomed to,” Towne said.

With five freshmen — including Hillsdale Academy graduate Megan Poole — joining the team of three sopho­mores, one junior, and five seniors this year, Bodary is opti­mistic the team will get back on its feet and return to per­for­mance levels of two years ago.

“We have a young team and a tal­ented team,” Kearney said. “It’s really exciting. Friday, we’ll see the ben­efits of summer work.”

Towne men­tioned a few women poised to have a par­tic­u­larly suc­cessful season. He said senior Hannah McIntyre, a 3-time All-American Champion, is in a better place than ever. Towne also noted sophomore Arena Lewis, who struggled with injuries last year, but is in a position to make an impact for the team. Next is sophomore Addison Rauch, who con­sis­tently improved last year and helped dis­place runners from other teams.   

For health reasons, Bodary and sophomore Emily Southgate will not compete on Friday. Bodary said it’s better to sit this one out, so they can be healthy for the next meet.

“One thing I really like about this group so far is they seem to be really focused on the day-to-day process and having fun,” Towne said.

Cur­rently, the NCAA tro­phies — the only ones the school has, Towne said, proudly — sit in Towne’s office. But as the team works toward its ultimate goal of placing fourth or higher at the NCAA cham­pi­onships, these women may need a trophy case.