Men’s cross country pegged for top spot

By on September 5, 2006

In the grand scheme of cross country, pack running has always been a crucial recipe for success. A team’s ability to stack as many runners in the top quarter of a race will pay dividends.

With that philosophy in mind, Ed O’Connor believes his 2006 men’s cross country team has enough overall talent, as well as strength in numbers, to re-emerge as Northeast Conference champions. After a one-year hiatus from the honor, the Bobcats will look to vault back to the top of the conference this season.

There is no top runner this year though, no clear-cut favorite to cross the finish line before the pack.

“This is one of the most balanced teams that I’ve ever had in my 13 years here,” O’Connor said.

“We have strong leadership from seniors and some graduate students in the program. We have strong representatives from each of the classes. I think we’re a pretty balanced team, we’ve got some great upper classmen and some outstanding runners right down to the freshman class.”

The Bobcats were selected to capture the conference championship in this year’s preseason coaches poll. They received four of the 11 first place votes.

“We ourselves have some high expectations and clearly one of them is winning the NEC championship,” O’Connor said.

Though it’s nice to have the first ever pre-season No. 1 selection, O’Connor said that his harriers will not get carried away with any polls or rankings system. They want to stay focused and keep their eyes on the prize all the way through.

“It’s a goal that we won two years ago, second last year, certainly we want to get back on top this year,” O’Connor stated.

The key returnee is Jacob Gurzler, who earned the distinction of All-NEC after placing 10th overall in the conference championship. Gurzler clocked a time of 27:15 at one of the the NEC’s more challenging courses in collegiate cross country (St. Francis Pa.). The Red Flash of St. Francis stole the title from the Bobcats in 2005, but it lost its top four runners from last season to graduation.

Matt Warren, who turned many heads as a freshman last year, is another key returnee. He’ll be thrown in the mix with a bevy of solid veterans like Michael Charron, Keith Bushey, Sam Wood, and Terence Moriarty. O’Connor says he has lofty expectations for guys like Gurzler and Warren.

Another runner who the Bobcats should get major production out of is Phil Roach. Roach, a redshirt sophomore, was a highly-touted recruit when O’Connor got him to ink in the winter of 2004. He’s seen Roach, who earned junior All-American honors two summers ago, emerge from injury-prone freshman to top-level runner in a short period.

With all the runners poised to make a strong contribution, this year’s team has no shortage of leadership.

“With graduate students and seniors, it’s incumbent upon them to share that (leadership) responsibility,” said O’Connor. “Each of them will bring a different characteristic to the leadership of this team.”

O’Connor preaches a disciplined brand of cross country which entails sacrifice both on and off the field. His runners subscribe to these coaching maxims because they understand the rewards.

The Bobcats, in addition to earning Academic All-American honors as they did last year, hope to win their second title in three years, a feat they’ve never before accomplished


About Zach Smart