September 12, 2003

A Blue Collar Team

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They’re young. They work hard. And a lot of the time, they don’t get quite as much respect as they deserve.

“We’re a blue collar team” said men’s distance coach Robert Johnson. “We don’t have any superstars.”

But the members of the men’s cross country team believe in themselves and are confident of their progress.

“We’re in as good a position as we could possibly be,” Johnson said.

As the cross country season begins, the team is looking for improvement. It just isn’t sure how that improvement will look this year.

“On paper, it looks like we’re a year or two away from being a standout team,” said Johnson.

On paper, the Red returns only two of its top five runners from last year — this year’s captains, junior Emory Mort and senior Dan Hart. Supporting them will be junior Oliver Tassinari, an occasional member of the top seven last year, and after that … well, no one is really sure.

“Those three are clearly our top returnees,” said Johnson. “It’s pretty wide open from there. We’re kind of looking for a few guys to step up.”

And those guys could be any one of a number. Sophomore Ed Palmero, juniors Jason Oswalt and Vasanth Coorg, and senior Aldo Gonzalez will all have chances to contribute.

Backing them is a talented freshman class, including time-trial standouts Rick Lader, Stephen Bakke, Brad Baird and Aaron Arlinghaus. All of them will all have plenty of chances to contribute over the coming season.

“This is probably the best recruiting class we’ve had in recent years,” said Johnson.

Any one of them has a chance of making it into the top seven, and almost all of them are in fine shape coming into their first season at Cornell.

“I couldn’t have been more pleased with the work the guys did over the summer,” noted Johnson. Eight guys ran faster in the time trial than our No. 2 man did last year.”

Mort and Hart lead the way for the team in this area too, putting in their share of 100-mile weeks over the summer. Mort won the most improved award last year, rising from his position as one of the slower members of the JV squad to a consistent place in the team’s top five, including finishing third on the team at last year’s Heptagonal Championships. He refuses to rest on his laurels, though.

“He said his goal was to be the most improved again this year,” said Johnson. “I don’t think there’s a single guy in the league who works harder.”

And Hart, the team’s only senior and another consistent member of last year’s top five, does his share of the work, too.

“Dan missed all of his track season, but he really did a lot over the summer,” noted Johnson. “He’s really self-motivated; he wants to build on last year.”

But what does all of this work from Hart, Mort, and everyone behind them, add up to? Right now, no one can be sure.

But, with the team in better shape than last year and confident in Johnson’s racing philosophy, it only has to focus on one thing — improving between now and Oct. 31, the day of the Heptagonal Championships at Van Cortlandt Park in New York.

“The training is focused on one thing — peaking in November,” Johnson said. “Early season meets don’t mean a whole lot. We really want to stay healthy, keep training, and keep improving. The goal always remains the same — win Heps and make and make an impact at nationals.”

Archived article by Matt James