The top-ranked Harper College men's cross-country team looks to defend its NJCAA Division III national championship Saturday in Delhi, NY.
"It should be a good meet," said second-year Harper coach Jim Macnider. "They're looking forward to running the race."
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Region IV meet champion Troy Cunningham (Conant) has a legitimate chance of winning the race.
The course record is just a shade over 27 minutes, a time Macnider thinks might be within reach for his top runner.
"I don't see why Troy can't beat 27 minutes," Macnider said.
Cunningham has regularly been running in the mid 26-minute range this season.
One variable that concerns the Hawks is the course. Not only is it the home course of East Coast rival SUNY-Delhi, it also has more hills than the courses Harper usually sees. The difference might favor other teams from outside the midwest who are more accustomed to the varied terrain.
"(East Coast teams) are more comfortable running on these types of courses," said Macnider, who referred to the course as, "hilly, but it's not terrible. It's no worse than where we train."
The Hawks got a close look at the layout Thursday, as they were able to train on the meet course. Macnider said his team really liked it.
The Hawks will face a fierce group of teams trying to win the title, including SUNY-Delhi. Other ranked teams who could dethrone Harper are second-ranked Ocean County College (Toms River, NJ) and fifth-ranked Howard Community College (Columbia, MD).
Gloucester County College is tied for No. 2 in the rankings and could be the biggest hurdle for the Hawks.
"Gloucester has a nice top three," Macnider said. "We are all pretty similar."
Harper, though, may be the deepest team in the field.
"I think our depth, if we run well, will be our strong suit," he said.
Harper is also entering two individuals in the women's race: Sophomore Jordan Wagner (Schaumburg/North Central) and freshman Gabby Beaupre (Elk Grove). At the midway point of the season, Macnider said Wagner could finish in the top 15 invidually. "Her times are as good as anybody's in the race," the coach said of Wagner.