The men’s cross country team begins its season tomorrow at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational in University Park, P.A. at the start of what head cross country coach Zeb Lang expects will be a very good season for the Red.
Although the Red lost a number of good runners last year, the team also added seven talented freshmen. Lang mentioned that he is excited to see where his team stacks up with other schools after the meet this weekend.
“We look forward to testing our team strength,” Lang said. “We have deliberately scheduled some of the most competitive meets in the country this year to challenge us as we prepare for the postseason.”
This weekend will certainly be a challenge; defending national champion and top-ranked Syracuse, No. 7 Georgetown and Ivy rival Princeton will be among the Red’s competitors.
“I think for the weekend it’s really just seeing where we’re at as a team,” said junior co-captain Dominic DeLuca. “We get to see some great competition in Syracuse and Georgetown, and it gives the whole team experience.”
DeLuca is coming off an inspiring season in which he finished 11th at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and 18th at the NCAA Northeast Regional.
The junior emphasized that this weekend is all about the team aspect of the sport.
“For a lot of the individual guys, we can’t gain points in this meet [so] we’re really excited to see how the team does, and just bounce off its success,” DeLuca said.
Senior David Taylor added that the competitive field will allow the Red to directly compare the results of this meet to those of the upcoming national meet.
“We have an amazing opportunity to see how we are looking in term of fitness compared to teams expected to place in the top ten at the National Meet in late November,” DeLuca said.“We have an incredible group of returners — my fellow seniors Mark Tedder and James Gowans as well as juniors Dominic Deluca, Josh Dryland and many other returners — each of which has the talent and fitness to compete well this weekend and throughout our season.”
The meet will also be the first collegiate meet ever for the team’s freshmen. Adjusting to college running and college life in general can be quite a shock. The men’s cross country team understands this challenge and has developed a Big Brother program, in which each freshman is paired with an upperclassmen who he can ask questions and shadow during the day.
“It’s the small stuff that can actually make the freshman’s life much easier, and I know that when I was a freshman my big brother helped me tremendously,” DeLuca said. “They helped make the transition smooth.”
DeLuca emphasized that being a college runner is a 24-hour job.
“You go to two hours of practice, but then the rest of the day has to be filled with things like not getting yourself hurt and not getting yourself too tired or underfed,” he said. “The Big Brother program really helps.”
This weekend will be an indicator of what the team’s freshmen have to offer as well as what the rest of the season will look like for the Red.
“Every year since I’ve been here we’ve gotten better and more competitive not only on a regional scale but also on a national scale,” DeLuca said. “This year our goal is to make it to nationals, do well at regionals [and] do well at the heptagonal championships.”
The Red placed fifth in regionals during DeLuca’s freshman year and improved to second last season; DeLuca knows that the team this year can continue this upward trend.
“I think every year we’re learning things that we can do to better our chances,” DeLuca said. “This year we have a very strong chance.”
Succeeding in Ivy League championships is another major focus for the Red. Lang knows that the team’s hard schedule will prepare them for regionals and this steady focus on nationals will, in turn, prepare them for Ivy Heps. The Red finished fourth last season.
“If we prepare well for November, then we should be able to contend for an Ivy title as well,” Lang said.