At the start of every season, college teams usually have to deal with the loss of seniors. This season, Western cross country has escaped that handicap.
As the men’s team prepares to start the season this weekend in Nashville, things have never been more promising.
“A lot of the guys are flying, and that’s good to see,” senior Enda Grandfield said. “That gives them a lot of confidence. We definitely are practicing harder because people are fitter.”
For starters, Western has talented upperclassmen. Junior David Altmaier returns after missing all of last year because of a stress fracture. And Grandfield hopes to return to his 2001 NCAA qualifying level after dealing with athletic induced asthma for most of last season. All of a sudden, there’s a team that expects to have a very competitive season.
Coach Curtiss Long also said senior Augustine Amonge may be the most improved runner on the team.
“Augustine has basically reinvented himself as a runner through sheer hard work, dedication and someone who had himself a summer job,” Long said. “He was up at the weight room at 6 a.m. and he has covered 60 to 85 miles a week most weeks all summer.”
In order for the team to have a successful season, both Long and Grandfield agree the team must function as a group.
“Most of the guys get together to run at least 12 miles,” Grandfield said. “We try to practice as a group and train as a group.”
Unlike other sports, the goal for each regular season meet is improvement instead of winning.
“There’s no regular season carryover,” Long said. “Your win-loss record could be 0 for whatever, and if you won the conference championship race then you’re the conference champion.”
This year the Sun Belt Conference championships will come to Bowling Green’s Kereiakes Park on Nov. 1 where Western expects to improve on last year’s second place finish. Middle Tennessee, Arkansas-Little Rock and Florida International are expected to finish near the top.
On the women’s side, there is a little more work to be done.
The team will have to overcome the loss of NCAA Championship qualifier Olga Cronin if they want to repeat as Sun Belt Conference champions.
“She’s not just a great runner, but she’s a great motivator,” sophomore Danah Whitley said. “She’s a great team leader. It won’t be the same without her.”
Senior Bonita Paul and junior Cara Nichols are expected be the Lady Toppers’ lead runners.
The team is looking to freshman Nicole Jaggers to help replace Cronin.
“Nicole has really been running well,” Nichols said. “She’s going to be in our top five.”
Besides overcoming the loss of Cronin, the Lady Toppers will have to improve their depth if they want to contend.
Just because a runner is ranked fifth on a given team doesn’t mean that runner is the least valuable.
“You can have a No. 1 runner who should win a race, and she has a bad day and finishes fifth, you’re only four points down,” Long said. “You have a No. 5 runner who should be in the top 30 and has a bad race, they may end up 60 or 70th and you lose 40 or 50 points.”
Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]