HANOVER, N.H. - On the eve of the 2012 season, women's cross country head coach Mark Coogan is keeping himself very busy. Like all coaches hosting a meet, the week before is a stressful time spent checking the odds and ends associated with making sure the event runs as smoothly as possible.
However, Coogan is preparing not only for some of the top competition in the country to be making their way to Hanover this weekend, but also a familiar face: his daughter.
The 2012 Dartmouth Invitational, scheduled for Saturday morning (11:10 a.m.) at the Hanover Country Club, will feature UConn, Middlebury, defending Northeast Regional Champion Syracuse and the defending national champion from Georgetown, a team that has his daughter Katrina on its roster.
But, Coogan doesn't look at Saturday's competition and worry about what his team will face come racetime. Why would he? He has arguably the top female cross country runner in the nation in junior Abbey D'Agostino (Topsfield, Mass.).
A First Team All-American last fall after a third-place finish at the NCAA Championship Meet in Indiana, D'Agostino only got better as the year progressed into the indoor and outdoor track seasons. In all, she earned First Team All-American honors four times in 2011-12, including an individual national championship in the outdoor 5K, a first for any Dartmouth woman in any event.
She was the 2011 Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Champion, becoming the first Big Green woman to take the crown at the annual meet in 14 years. D'Agostino wasn't done there, moving on to win the Northeast Regional in Buffalo and be named the Regional Athlete of the Year two weeks later, setting her up for the final race of the season in Indiana.
Her third-place showing in Terre Haute last November as just a sophomore was all the more impressive when taking into account that 2011 marked D'Agostino's first full season of cross country at the collegiate level, having missed her freshman campaign due to a nagging injury.
But one strong runner does not a team make.
"I've been very impressed by our younger runners in practices so far," Coogan remarked. "The freshmen we have this year are very strong and I'm excited to see what they can do against collegiate competition. Then you look at the sophomore class and they have looked very good in practices we've had; very much in shape and ready to get going.
"We have more depth this year than we have in the recent past."
That depth creates a level of uncertainty on a weekly basis, but in a good way. No longer is there an established idea of where individuals will finish and who will be in the scoring each meet, but rather that strong complete roster of runners will regularly challenge one another for those top spots.
A team that has 15 underclassmen needs veteran leadership to help nurture the depth that has been toted leading up to the start of the year. D'Agostino and fellow junior Arianna Vailas (Manchester, N.H.) along with lone senior Katie Sullivan (Bronxville, N.Y.) will take on that task of leading the Big Green this season as the team's tri-captains.
A preseason ranking of seventh in the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Northeast Regional Rankings is a good start for the Dartmouth women after wrapping up 2011 with the No. 10 spot in the weekly poll.
Returning to help in the pursuit of an Ivy title are juniors Hannah Rowe (St. Johnsbury, Vt.) and Bridget End (Summit, N.J.) as well as Sullivan all of whom scored for the team at last season's Heps held at Princeton.
For Dartmouth, this weekend's home meet is a good way to start the season. Top teams, familiar surroundings and a program firmly headed in the right direction to compete for an Ivy title, not only this season, but for the foreseeable future all make for an exciting race day at the sound of the starter's gun.
Note: this year's women's race is now a 6K.
Fans attending the Dartmouth Invitational on Saturday morning are encouraged to park at the Dartmouth Rugby Clubhouse, rather than at the Hanover Country Club as the start and finish lines are located across the street on the edge of the golf course. The rugby clubhouse can be accessed by taking the first right on the rotary heading north on Route 10 followed by the first right.