PHILADELPHIA – Under the direction of third-year head coach Melody O’Reilly, the Saint Joseph’s women’s cross country squad will open the 2017 season at The College of New Jersey’s Blue/Gold Invitational this Saturday, September 2. The Hawks will race against host-school TCNJ, Rider, and Penn at Rosedale Park in Hopewell, New Jersey, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Captained by graduate student Sydney Coughlin and senior Cassidy Weimer, SJU returns 20 Hawks and adds 12 newcomers to a squad that was predicted to finish seventh at the Atlantic 10 Championship this fall.

“I’m really excited about the team this year and about who we have back and how tight-knit the group is,” said O’Reilly. “It’s always good to have that in cross country. There are people on this team that want to make their mark and reach their goals.

“Their goal, as a team, is to place in the top five at the conference meet, and with everybody back, I do believe we can finish higher. I’m excited to see what they’re going to do.”

Returning to lead the pack are junior Lindsey Oremus and Weimer, who each dazzled with All-Conference and ECAC All-East performances last fall.

Oremus returns as SJU’s top runner from the last two seasons, having led the Hawks in 13 of her 15 career races, including four of six championship races. Oremus owns the top 5k (17:42.7) and 6k (21:34.6) times of all returners and will be expected to lead the squad from the front this year.

“Lindsey looks stronger than ever,” said O’Reilly. “She has gotten a great base in this summer, she’s healthy, and she’s fired up. She is definitely going to be a continuing force in the conference.”

Weimer owns the second-fastest 5k (17:47.6) and 6k (21:43.4) times of all returners, right behind Oremus, and after continuous progression over her first three seasons, will look to leave her mark in her final go-around at SJU.

“Cass did some solid running this summer, and she is looking just as good,” added O’Reilly.

After captaining the Hawks from the sidelines last fall due to injury, Coughlin returns for her much anticipated final season on Hawk Hill. Coughlin was big for the Hawks from 2014-15, where she scored in all 15 of the scorable meets in which she raced.

Coughlin ran 18:31.7 for 5k and 22:10 for 6k back in 2015 and will be expected to be a significant factor in SJU’s postseason success.

“She’s 100% and ready to go,” beamed O’Reilly. “This is her last year, and she wants to make her mark.”

Entering her third season, junior Britton Gagliardi also returns from the Hawks’ A-10 Championship 10 group last fall. Gagliardi experienced her fastest times on the trails as a freshman in 2015, including a 5k time of 18:22.4, and O’Reilly believes that she will be back on that level this fall.

“Britton is back and looking strong, and she’s more confident than she has been in a while,” said O’Reilly. “I like to see that in her.”

Also eyeing a spot in O’Reilly’s top five will be sophomore Emily Bracken, who went 19:03.40 for 5k last fall.

“Emily has set some really huge goals for herself, and she’s really fired up for herself and for the team,” said O’Reilly. “She has done a lot in terms of building her mental skills and mental toughness, and I really think we’re going to see that in her this year.”

A quartet of Hawks, all entering their second seasons on the trails, round out the returning A-10 Championship 10 group, meaning that eight of SJU’s 10 racers that competed at A-10s last season are back. Senior Caroline Keegan, junior Elaine Estes, and sophomores Meridith Twomey and Emily Schaeffer all have a year of O’Reilly’s cross country training under their belts entering the season on Saturday.

Having been a two-year long sprinter solely on the track, Keegan attacked her cross country training courageously last fall and it paid off, as she ended up being a scorer for the Hawks at all three championship meets.

“Caroline has been consistently training all summer,” said O’Reilly. “She exceeded expectations last year and I expect her to be right up there in the top seven again this year.”

A tough racer who showed great consistency for the Hawks in just her first season last fall, Estes will also, undoubtedly, be in the mix.

“Elaine is going to be a factor this year in my top ten, for sure,” added O’Reilly. “She’s going to be right in the mix the whole time.”

O’Reilly also has great expectations of a pair of sophomores that gained experience at the conference meet last fall.

“Meri [Twomey] had a good summer with consistent training and her confidence is back,” said O’Reilly. “I needed to see that confidence come back, and I think we’ll see a new Meri Twomey this year.

“Emily [Schaeffer] has also been training very hard.”

O’Reilly expects that a pair of veterans could have breakthrough cross country seasons for the Crimson and Gray in juniors Lucy Harmon and Erin McGuire.

“Lucy is going to make her mark this year in cross country,” predicted O’Reilly. “It has been her goal for the longest time to represent SJU at the Atlantic 10 level all three seasons, and she started last year with track. I anticipate that she’ll be in that top 10.

“Erin’s looking good and, importantly, she’s running tough,” added O’Reilly.

Along with talent and dedication, team chemistry can prove to be an integral determining factor between success and failure. In senior Megan O’Dowd, the Hawks have a leader in that department.

“Megan is amazing and is a positive force on this team,” said O’Reilly. “Although things haven’t always gone her way, she is always right there for everybody. Her attitude stays positive.”

Juniors Elizabeth Del Rio, Julia Donahue, and Sara Rankin and sophomores Rose Barrett, Joanna DeSousa, Samantha Mayers, Abigail McGann, and Michaela Urbach will round out the returners for the Hawks while senior track and field long sprinter Alex Edger and sophomore track and field long sprinter Maggie Maguire will train with the cross country squad this fall.

The Hawks welcome nine freshmen in Cornelia Brower, Alexa Gostovich, Molly Jacobs, Kayla Martin, Maggie Moyer, Thi Nguyen, Morgan Patten, Claire Podles, and Abigail Silva.

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