With the start of the 2014 cross country season just around the corner, the Denison coaching staff has a very optimistic attitude about both the men’s and women’s teams.
The women’s team continued its climb up the North Coast Athletic Conference standings with a fourth-place finish at last year’s NCAC Championship meet. This year’s team returns four of its five scorers from both the NCAC and NCAA Great Lakes Regional meets. Those four runners are senior Abbi Boss, juniors Emily Lamm and Kate Benson and sophomore Claire Barcelo. Last season, Lamm garnered second-team All-NCAC honors after finishing 14th at the championship event. She also place 37th overall at the All-Ohio Championship and 31st at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. Barcelo was the third DU runner to finish the NCAC Championship race, earning honorable mention all-conference laurels with a 20th-place finish. Boss and Benson took 31st and 37th, respectively, at the conference meet to round out the Big Red scoring.
In addition to the returning scorers, Denison also brings back a solid trio of juniors that could play a pivotal role this year. Gwen Gunter, Macey Thornburg and Sarah McKendry will all be vital pieces as the Big Red continues to grow as a team. Gunter placed 57th at the NCAC Championship, while Thornburg looks to rebound in 2014 after being bitten by the injury bug throughout last season.
“We are really excited,” said Mark FitzPatrick, who is in his second year as Co-Head Cross Country Coach. “I think we have a very strong top-3. I feel like we have some great runners four and on, and we need some people out of that group to step up and solidify our top seven. I feel like we are at least as good as we’ve been the past two years, and I feel we have the potential to be even better.”
With no seniors on the roster, the men’s squad will get its leadership from its 10 juniors and sophomores. Sophomore Jake Dennie will help lead the way in 2014 following a break-out rookie season that saw him garner All-Ohio Cross Country Division III Freshman of the Year honors. Dennie earned that accolade after being the first Division III freshman to cross the finish line at the All-Ohio Championship. He placed 58th in the overall standings and 15th among D-III competitors. Dennie also paced Denison at the NCAC Championship meet, finishing 29th out of 113 runners. He followed up that performance by leading the team at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet.
Other runners returning that scored at the conference meet include juniors Mitch and Ryan Keller and sophomore Drake Lohnes. The Keller twins finished third (Ryan) and fourth (Mitch) on the team at last year’s championship meet, while Lohnes was fifth on the squad with a 45th-place performance. Lohnes also posted the third-fastest time by a DU runner at the 2013 NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
Also looking to make big contributions in 2014 are juniors Sam Beech and Andrew Groff and sophomore Zach Cove. Beech looks to build off a successful 2013 season that was slowed down due to a late-season injury. Prior to his setback, he finished 26th out of 143 Division III runners at the All-Ohio meet. Groff also had a strong campaign a year ago, finishing fourth on the team at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional and sixth on the squad at the NCAC Championship.
“I’m excited for the new season,” said FitzPatrick. “We have a great group of guys. It’s a good mixture of returnees and newcomers. We are in a good position to significantly improve on our performance from last year.”
For the second-consecutive season, the Big Red will open the season at the Flyer 5K Challenge hosted by the University of Dayton.