Each year that Jessica Schultz has run at the University at Buffalo, her times have improved.
The senior from Rochester's Eastridge High has gotten faster and more consistent.
And that's been the key to success for UB cross country this season.
With a roster featuring some talented seniors and improving sophomores, the Bulls twice entered regional rankings this fall and look to have a strong showing on Saturday at the Mid-American Conference meet in Ypsilanti, Mich.
"Jessica Schultz has been our consistent No. 2 runner this year and every year has run better and better and better and better," UB coach Vicki Mitchell said. "She ran OK in high school but again, it's the consistency in having a group to train with. Her time that she ran [Oct. 18] at the Bowling Green Invitational was close to 45 seconds faster than last year. That's a huge difference."
While the individual accomplishment is rewarding, so too is what it means for the team. Faster times mean better places, lower team scores and a better place overall for the University at Buffalo. That in turn gives the Bulls some regional recognition. They earned their first ranking of the season in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Association at No. 12 in the Northeast at the end of September. UB re-entered the poll at No. 15 on Oct. 21 after a strong showing at the Bowling Green Invitational.
"I attribute that to the development of the girls that are sophomores right now," Mitchell said of UB's presence in the regional poll. "Last year they were running well as freshmen but on average the four girls are running about a minute faster than last year."
That improvement could mean as much as 100 places in a large invitational, Mitchell pointed out. "That has really affected how we place at meets."
"We have a much tighter gap from our first runner, who's Mary Veith, through our seventh and ninth runner and I think that the polls are reflecting the fact that our gap has closed a little bit, that the back pack has moved up a bit more."
Veith's ability has allowed the Bulls to pull into a favorable position heading into the MAC conference meet.
The senior from Lakeshore finished third at the conference meet last year in 17:48.36. She ran into some health problems that kept her out of training in the spring and summer but she has rebounded to remain UB's top runner while putting up impressive performances this fall.
She took second place at the UB Stampede in 18:13, her only 5K race of the year. Her other three races were all 6Ks with her best time a 21:21 at the Paul Short Invitational (37th out 301). The MAC championship is 5K.
"She is having a really good season even though she doesn't think she is," Mitchell said. "She struggled in the outdoor season with some health issues and all during the summer we really backed off training. . . . She was working with Dr. John Leddy at UB Sports Medicine to deal with her energy systems and she feels tremendously better. Her ability to persevere through this kind of down slump and feeling bad every day is amazing.
"She goes out and feels tired, sluggish and fatigued but still presses through it because she's tough. She has races where she doesn't feel great but she's running faster, which is an indication that she is just a tough, focused kid. There's not too much that's going to get in the way for her."
In the way for the bulk of the MAC schools this weekend are heavy favorites and regionally ranked Miami (Ohio), Akron and Bowling Green.
"It's going to be a dog fight I think between the fifth- through 10th-place teams in our conference," Mitchell said. "It could really go any way. It depends on who packs it in, who doesn't. . . . I think it's going to be a really interesting race and I know that our team is really focusing in on who can we beat and how can we beat them."