KINGS POINT, N.Y. – In cross country, every step, small and big counts.
When he took over as U.S. Merchant Marine Academy women's head cross country coach last year, Greg Lott had but four healthy runners.
"Our goal last year was to build team that has enough size and depth to create a team score," he said of the Landmark Conference Championship.
The Mariners did just that, surprising themselves with a seventh-place finish out of eight teams –
"We beat Drew, but we didn't join the party, so to stay, with the rest of the conference," Lott said.
The Mariners will get another opportunity to join that party on Saturday at the Landmark Championship in Bethlehem, Pa. The meet is hosted by Moravian College.
"We did exactly what we set out to do last year." Lott said. "This year our goal is to join the party.
"If we are up there with them, it will give us the [boost] to placing high the following year."
Senior Lauren Rattan, who expected to lead the way, is the Mariners' best bet to become an all-conference selection. The Mariners haven't had a women's all-conference cross country selection in four years. The top seven runners make the first team, the next seven runners the second team.
In Kings Point's final tune-up before the conference meet, Rattan finished in eighth place out of about 120 runners in 21:39 over an extremely hilly 5K course at the St. Joseph's Invitational in Sunken Meadow Park in Kings Park last Saturday.
"Lauren's showing she is right in the mix to be all-conference this year," Lott said. "She's more competitive. She just wants it against girls she races against. She makes it happen."
Lott also praised the leadership that team captain and senior Renee Hogan has brought to the team.
"She's done a real good job of mentoring and developing this group of freshmen," he said.
The Mariners will be without freshman Kelly Whalen, who was lost to a season-ending injury. She was among the top five runners in the conference.
"It was a huge hit to lose Kelly," Lott said. "Without her we're in seventh place. With her, we're with everyone else.
"The rest of the girls have been working their tails off, showing improvement bringing us to a whole new level."
The Landmark Championship is the start of three key meets over a two-week span. The Mariners also will compete at the ECAC Championships at Mt. Greylock in Williamstown, Mass. on Nov. 5 and at the NCAA Division III Atlantic Regional qualifying meet at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. on Nov. 12.