The cross country program has struggled to find its niche since the program was re-established in 2005 following a 20-year hiatus.
Neither the men’s or women’s teams have finished higher than 11th place at the Atlantic Ten Conference championship meet in the three seasons since the program’s revival.
Last weekend, the men’s team finished 25th among 28 competitors at the Mid-Atlantic Regional, held in Bethlehem, Pa. The women’s team did not compete.
Part of the struggle in building a strong program has been recruiting talent to an urban environment, where areas for long-distance running are limited.
The Owls continue to find more places to train and develop their growing foundation. They run throughout Fairmount Park at locations such as Valley Green, the Philadelphia Art Museum and along Kelly Drive.
“A lot of people are excited about the city,” Director of Track and Field Stefanie Scalessa said. “I think that Philadelphia in particular offers some really great places to run and, I think the recruits just need to be educated on how we go to get there and how close everything is to us.
“The only thing we don’t have going for us is you’re not going to really walk [out of your dorm] and want to go for a long run around North Philadelphia.”
La Salle has dominated the Atlantic Ten Conference championships in recent years. Much like Temple, LaSalle has an urban campus lacking the space necessary for runners, but has found a way to succeed.
The Explorers men’s and women’s teams each won the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship last month. Coach Charles Torpey was named A-10 Coach of the Year.
For the women’s team, the title marked its fourth-straight championship and sixth in the last seven years. The Explorers also had their top runner win the individual competition in five of those races.
The men’s team captured its second straight A-10 title, and seventh in last nine years. Their top runner won the individual competition in four of those years.
“I’m sure a lot of people asked [Torpey] the same questions in the beginning wondering whether or not being in the city and being where they were located was going to be difficult to recruit for,” Scalessa said. “I think if we all thought it was going to be that difficult, we probably wouldn’t have persevered with it or wanted to do it.”
Owls coach Matt Jelley understands that with a 20-year hiatus, the program needs time to generate buzz. He said Temple has the same opportunity for success that La Salle has attained.
“If they can do it, there’s no reason why we can’t,” Jelley said. “We’re in similar areas and we have the same hurdles that both of us need to clear. The only difference between Temple and La Salle is that Temple didn’t have cross country for the last 20 years.”
The goal of Scalessa and Jelley has been to attract runners who know that they are part of the building process. They want athletes to be proud of the time they spend at Temple, and know that their work will not be fruitless.
“That is our job – to start to get better and better and to keep moving up in the conference,” Scalessa said. “Then people will be more excited to be a part of that program that is developing and to be able to turn around in four years and say, ‘Hey, I really helped to put that program back on the map again.'”
If all goes as planned, the Owls will one day find themselves at the top of the A-10 looking down.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.