By James Greene
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Hopes are high and optimism plentiful for the Holy Cross men's cross country team for the 2009 season. "I believe this team will be equal to our best since being in the Patriot League," head coach and program director Jim Kavanagh said. "We have the depth."
"This is the most competitive team I have been a part of since I arrived at Holy Cross," senior co-captain Tim Richard said. "Six of our top seven finishers at last year's Patriot League Championship are returning to campus this season. This year we should be able to improve upon our sixth place [Patriot League] finish from last year."
Richard posted a strong performance at the National Catholic Championship at Notre Dame, finishing 17th with a time of 25:49. His performance at the New England Championship (58th place, 25:46) earned him Patriot League Runner of the Week honors. "Richard has been a leader for a few years now," Kavanagh said. "His strength is coming off strong summer training, and he's very competitive at cross country."
Senior Kyle Rougeot was tabbed to captain the squad, but an injury will keep him on the sidelines. He and Richard paced the Crusaders to a win at the Blue Devil Invitational last season when he finished in third place, posting a time of 26:50. Richard finished right behind him in fourth at 27:42. Rougeot has also been best for Holy Cross in the NCAA Northeast Regional in each of the last three years, including finishing 111th with a time of 34:42.1 last season.
Replacing Rougeot's talent and leadership will be a tall order, but Kavanagh is looking for the younger runners to step up, including sophomore standout Cory Loftis. He finished sixth at the Blue Devil Invitational, helping Holy Cross to win the meet. With one year under his belt, he looks to improve upon his performances from last year, which included three finishes in the top 50. Named Patriot League Rookie of the Week twice last season, he also ran at the IC4A Championship, finishing in 97th place.
"Cory Loftis improved drastically during the track season," Richard said. "He will play a big role this year." Kavanagh also anticipates Loftis to fill the gap left by the absence of Rougeot. "I expect him to be among the leaders," he said. "He has the best credentials of a sophomore in the last 12 to 15 years."
Joining Loftis is sophomore Dan Altenau, who finished in 24th place at the Blue Devil Invitational and 80th at the IC4A Championship. In addition to Loftis and Altenau, there exists a strong sophomore nucleus on the team. Ben Brink, Alex Dobens, Mark Drago and Stephen Madsen all return to add to the depth of the Crusader squad.
The Crusaders will miss last year's captain Brad Mish, who scored the highest for the team at the National Catholic and the Patriot League Championships. In addition to Richard and Rougeot, there are others ready fill the void left by Mish's graduation. Seniors Garrett Huddy and Brendan Medeiros also return for the Crusaders. Huddy finished 12th at the Blue Devil Invitational and also ran strong at the Patriot League Championship, finishing in 47th with a time of 27:02.3.
Juniors Chris Bergan and James Fletcher are also expected to step up for Holy Cross. Bergan finished 26th at the Blue Devil Invitational and recorded his best time at the UMass-Dartmouth Invitational. Fletcher also ran well at the Blue Devil, finishing in 33rd place and posted his best time at the Murray Keatinge Invitational.
The freshmen also have a chance to step right in and contribute, as several of them captained their high school teams as seniors. "The freshmen will provide depth to our returning roster," Richard said. "They can only strengthen and improve our team." Kavanagh agrees. "Kyle Shepard has the ability to make an impact," he said of one of the incoming freshman. Kavanagh also looks for instant contributions from Dylan Leazes, Brian Treadway, Hayden Mitchell, Chris Schaller and Kevin Turner.
Holy Cross is set to compete in 10 meets this season. The season kicks off at the Blue Devil Invitational (Sept. 12). A busy weekend then awaits as some runners will compete at the National Catholic Championships at Notre Dame while others will participate in the Jim Sheehan Classic in Fitchburg (Sept. 18). The weekend concludes at the UMass-Dartmouth Invitational (Sept. 19).
Holy Cross kicks off October at the Murray Keatinge Invitational at Maine (Oct. 3), then heads to the New England Championship one week later in Boston (Oct. 10). After a week off from competition, the team heads to the Central Connecticut Mini Meet (Oct. 24), then to the Patriot League Championship (Oct. 31). The Crusaders' schedule ends with the NCAA Northeast Regional (Nov. 14) and the IC4A Championship (Nov. 21).