The 2011 cross country season is just hours from officially opening when the Big Red travel to Gambier, Ohio for the Kenyon Quad Meet. The two squads, both under the direction of veteran head coach Phil Torrens, have shown plenty of promise throughout the preseason. The program's new focus seems to have a direct correlation to that.
"We want this to feel like one team, not separate men's and women's teams," commented Torrens. "We have changed our philosophy a bit and we have relied heavily on the seniors for leadership. I have been very pleased with how quickly both the men and the women have come together and supported each other through these first two weeks. They have bought in and we hope that bond continues to strengthen throughout the season."
The men enter the season ranked ninth in the Great Lakes preseason regional cross country poll and are led by a veteran group paced by seniors Dee Salukombo and Alexander Chappars. Salukombo finished fourth at last year's NCAA Great Lakes regional championship. He followed that performance one week later with a 29th place finish at the Division III national championship, earning him his second-straight All-American citation.
Chappars, who is also one of the top runners in the region, posted an 11th place finish at last year's North Coast Athletic Conference meet. Also returning to the fold are juniors Chad Kosanovich, Steven Johnson, Hank Francis and senior, Chris Dunn. Kosanovich enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign which saw him place 14th at the NCAC Championship.
Torrens is hopeful that the men will continue to move up the ranks in the NCAC and the Great Lakes region.
"We finished fourth in the conference last year and this year DePauw enters the league and they have a strong team. We hope to improve our standing and we feel like the conference is wide open this year."
The women return some veterans from last year's squad but they will be relying primarily on new blood as they make their way through the 2011 season. Senior Ani Mutafova returns along with fellow seniors Victoria Stearns and Victoria Pottieger. Pottieger placed 19th in last year's NCAC Championship. She also placed 29th overall at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional with her time of 22:50 and was just a few spots shy of advancing to nationals. One of the biggest surprises this fall has been the development of junior Michelle Clark who has come into this season healthy, and in excellent shape.
Another new face within both programs is first-year head track and field coach, Mark FitzPatrick, who serves as the assistant cross country coach during the fall.
"Mark has come in and meshed with the kids right away. He has added some new concepts and our athletes have been very receptive," said Torrens.
The season will kick off this evening at Kenyon and will continue with the Great Lakes College Association Championship next Saturday (Sept. 10) in Delaware, Ohio. This year's NCAC Championship will be hosted by Wittenberg University and will take place on Oct. 29 in Springfield, Ohio.