The cross country teams’ difficult seasons last year following a 20-year program absence have them looking to finally enter the race that is collegiate cross country.
Given the program’s non-existence over the last two decades, initial recruiting has been difficult, coach Stefanie Scalessa said. As part of the rebuilding process, a heightened focus on recruiting is paramount, she said.
“Recruiting is essential to our future,” Scalessa said. “We have a long way to go, and we have only just started. We just got through the season [last year].”
Men’s cross country captain and senior Dave D’Addario said a full year of recruiting should bode the teams well.
“We were under-prepared last season,” he said. “We had very few runners and we found out really late [that the program was coming back], so we weren’t able to tap into our full potential.”
“But this season we have the advantage of a full recruiting year. We will be strong. We are deeper and we are younger-something which is overlooked in the [Atlantic Ten Conference.]”
Both the men’s and women’s teams finished 13th out of 14 teams at the A-10 championship meet last season.
The men’s team started this season strong, finishing second out of six teams at the Monmouth Kickoff Sept. 2 and followed that with an eighth place finish among 19 teams at the Fordham Invitational Saturday.
The women’s team finished sixth of six teams at Monmouth and placed 15th of 18 teams at Fordham Saturday.
A new assistant coach – Todd Witzleben – was also brought in.
Having run for La Salle as a student and coached at The College of New Jersey, Witzleben brings a local feel to the program. Witzleben said he wants to jumpstart the teams from low finishes to top 10 performances.
Professionally, Witzleben runs marathons for Nike Team Run LA and has advanced to the Olympic trials. But he has very succinct goals for both teams this season.
“We need to bring in recruits, make the awareness of this team essential, a higher profile,” he said. “But we can do a lot of work with the ones that are here, challenging to win the A-10’s every year.”
Specifically, Witzleben wants to change the focus of the Owl’s training.
“At first, we are working strength, increasing mileage, all with a strong distance base,” Witzleben said. “Then, for the end of the season, in preparation for the A-10s, we’ll add speed.”
D’Addario believes that his new coach can make a difference.
“He’s super knowledgeable, an Olympic qualifier, places we all want to go,” D’Addario said. “He’s extremely well qualified for what he’s going to do. He knows distance. He lives, breathes and sleeps distance.”
Junior Shanice DePass also sees improvement under the new coaching tandem.
“Coach Witzleben is really strict, but he knows what he’s talking about,” she said. “He pushes us because he wants us to succeed.”
Still, DePass said, more is needed on the women’s team, with only 14 women currently on their roster.
“The only thing we’re lacking is people,” DePass said. “Even recruiting on campus – just getting people who run on the track, it would really help the team.
Scalessa said that the dream of achieving high marks at the A-10s is a reality.
She said full recruiting potential for the Owls is still three or four years off, but on paper, Scalessa also has some changes for this season.
“Last year we found out about the season in late August, and it took time to make the team. But it wasn’t enough time to be ready for the early meets. This year, we’d like to get to more meets, and better meets.”
Andrew Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.