Last year, the cross country program started off with a spark. Under new coach Deb Cane, the men’s and women’s teams finished first and second place respectively at their first meet and pre-season predictions had the team jumping three places in conference rankings.
But by the end of the year, the teams had faltered. The women finished a dismal 10th place at the Atlantic 10 championships, while the men finished fifth. Now, after training throughout the summer, both teams are in positions to improve those standings.
After finishing in first place at the Mount Saint Mary’s Invite Saturday, the women’s team seems to be on the right track. The men also made a decent showing with a fourth place finish.
The men’s roster is small after recruiting only two freshmen in 2002 and losing three runners from last season, including a three-year member, senior Chris Zurich. But team members say a diverse range of talent still remains.
Senior Rob Wolcheski said that with only 12 runners, the biggest challenge his team will face is avoiding injury.
“One slip-up and we won’t have a team to compete,” he said. At least five runners from a team must participate in a race for the team to receive a score.
Junior Dave Azari said one of the team’s goals is to “close the gap between the freshmen and the upperclassman runners in terms of speed, forming a more consistently strong team.”
They also want to bring the third and fourth place runners closer together, while taking advantage of the top runners’ talent.
Azari, who finished 18th overall at last year’s A-10 Championship, is the men’s top runner. He is joined by junior Darrell Andruski and senior David Talbird.
“Our top three runners are working to make the top ten at the conference,” Wolcheski said.
While the men’s depth is fragile, the women’s team is loaded with 20 runners, eight of which are freshmen.
Senior Laura Jennings said the freshmen add to the team and they are “running harder than ever.”
Sophomore Mary Beth McCullough will lead the women after an impressive rookie season when she finished first on her team and 56th overall at the A-10 Championship.
Other top returning runners for the women’s team include sophomore Erin Patton and junior Emily Jadwin.
Freshmen on both teams ran the first races of their collegiate careers Sept. 7 at the Shepherd College Invitational, when they had a chance to adjust to racing at an NCAA level. The five-mile race was a step up from the 3.2-mile races that are standard in high school competition.
“We were happy with their performance at the invite. They showed ambition,” Azari said. The Colonials will race at home for the only time all season Saturday, when they host the GW Invitational at Bull Run Park in Centreville, Va. The men’s race starts at 9:30 a.m. and the women’s will follow at 10:15 a.m.