Admittedly, it was a gamble. The Toledo women’s team entered the Mid-American Conference Cross Country Championships as the well-established team to beat. But the Rockets have their sights set on bigger goals on the NCAA stage. Ranked 20th in the country, Toledo decided to structure its training to peak for NCAA regionals, not the conference meet.

It was a bold move and it paid off Saturday morning. Setting a strong pace from the start, all seven Toledo runners earned all-conference honors as the Rockets won the MAC women’s team title at Beaver Island State Park.

“This year, because of our success all year, we’re in a position to go back to the NCAAs so our thinking was this is just the beginning part of our training as opposed to the culmination of it,” Toledo coach Kevin Hadsell said. “It is a gamble because there are other good teams and … you still have to run as hard as you can or someone else can sneak up on you. There’s a tremendous amount of talent in the MAC.”

Conditions were not ideal as runners battled rain, wind, mud and 40-degree temperatures, but there were some impressive results in both the men’s and women’s fields.

The University at Buffalo men’s team finished fifth and placed three runners on all-conference teams. (The top seven finishers are First Team All-MAC while eighth through 14th place are Second Team All-MAC).

A strong finishing kick by UB senior Mike Pressler gave him a sixth place finish with a time of 24:59.9 over the 8K course. Junior Zachary Ahart was ninth (25:02.4) and sophomore Zach Krause was 14th (25:22.8).

“It was pretty wet out there today, but we went out hard,” Pressler said. “I was up there with my teammate Zach and over the last mile we caught as many [runners] as we could. We were trying to keep our top three together for as long as we could. We did that then moved up as a group.”

On the women’s side for the Bulls, a team finish of seventh was the best result in six years. Kara Patrick was the top Buffalo finisher, placing 20th in 22:18.7 over the 6K course. It also happened to be her first collegiate race.

“We recruited Kara out of the Linda Yalem race. She’s a UB student and was not on any team so I talked with her and she wanted to run and it worked out great, obviously, so we’re really excited,” Buffalo coach Vicki Mitchell said. “The women’s team performance all over, I’m thrilled. We had five in the top 50 and we have not had that kind of performance in years.”

Patrick, a sophomore from Albany, ran the annual Linda Yalem 5K, held on UB’s North Campus, on Sept. 30 and was the third overall female finisher (18:19).

While an unusual kind of recruiting coup for Mitchell, it’s another sign of the continued improvement and growth of the Buffalo cross country program.

“The coaching staff is awesome and we have a great group,” Pressler said. “Everybody wants to be good. It’s just a great, young group of guys and girls who every day want to get better. It’s coming together and it’s great to be a part of it.”

“I think people are starting to recognize Buffalo as being a strong team and a great place to be able to come and race,” Mitchell said. “We’re getting athletes that are serious about wanting to be great and it’s starting to pay off.”

Ohio junior Julie Accurso won the individual women’s title for the second straight year in 20:48.4.

On the men’s side, Eastern Michigan senior Terefe Ejigu, last year’s runner-up, won in 23:44.5, leading the Eagles to their third straight team title.