Fresh feet lead the way for cross country

It’s rare for a freshman athlete to be the best on the team. It’s even rarer to find two freshmen standouts leading their team. But for three freshmen to lead their team in the same

It’s rare for a freshman athlete to be the best on the team. It’s even rarer to find two freshmen standouts leading their team. But for three freshmen to lead their team in the same year? It seems almost impossible.

Or not.

The cross country teams have been led by three freshmen this year. Dan Rinehart and Travis Gerhardt have led the way on the men’s team, while Joanna Duffey has paced the women.

Assistant coach Todd Witzleben is pleased with the freshmen phenoms.

“I think it’s great for them that they get to come in as freshmen and [have] such an impact,” he said.

Duffey finished the 6k Paul Short Invite with a 24:51 to led the women’s team for the fourth straight meet. Rinehart’s 26:31 ranked highest for the men’s team Friday at the 8k Brooks Paul Short Invite. He has topped the Owls in three of their four meets. Gerhardt was the team’s top finisher at the Monmouth Invitational on Sept. 15, a meet in which Rinehart did not participate.

Rinehart opened the season by pacing the Owls in their first two meets. He finished sixth overall in his first collegiate meet at the Monmouth Cross Country Kickoff Sept 2. He placed 29th overall at the Fordham Invitational Sept 9.

Though Rinehart is succeeding now, by his own admission, he wasn’t always this good.

“I got off to a rough start with running,” he said. “[The summer before] my freshman year of high school I broke my arm and I started the season late. I didn’t think that I was going to be good at running.”

Even through the adversity, he carried a cross-country mentality. He said he knew recovery was a marathon, not a sprint.

“I worked through that year and made
a lot of improvement the next year,” Rinehart said. “And that inspired me to really get into it.”

Now, Rinehart is helping to lead the
Owls toward progression in the Atlantic Ten
Conference. But Rinehart isn’t alone in the
task. He’s got Gerhardt to shoulder the load.

Gerhardt’s athletic career actually started
in another sport.

“I played varsity soccer [in high school],”
Gerhardt said. “My brother is a Division I player at Drexel and I was following him.”

Yet, he traded in his cleats for a pair of
running shoes.

“My senior year I had to quit soccer and
that was really tough,” he said. “Moving to
track, doing what I’m good at, I love doing
cross country. It’s been a blast so far.”

Though this is his first year running
cross country, Gerhardt has already gotten
the hang of it. In addition to topping the Owls at the Monmouth Invitational, he has finished in among the team’s top four three times.

“We have a great future in the next three
or four years,” Gerhardt said. “I definitely would see an [A-10] championship.”

On the women’s side, Duffey is doing
all she can to make sure the team quickly ascends in the A-10. Both cross country teams returned last season after a 20 year period of non-existence.

Her ninth-place finish at the Monmouth
Cross Country Kickoff, 57th finish in the Fordham Invitational and ninth-place overall finish has set the tone for the Owls.

Witzleben said Duffey has already established herself as a team leader.
“She knows she’s going to be leading
this team for a long time,” Witzleben said.

“As long as she overcomes [any obstacles] properly, she should be one of the top athletes in the conference by the time she graduates.”

Duffey welcomed those compliments
with a big smile.

“I wasn’t expecting to be the No. 1 girl,
so I was definitely surprised when after the first race I was the top girl,” Duffey said.

Yet, she knows complacency isn’t an option.
“I still have to work just as hard and compete with everybody else,” Duffey said.

“As long as I prove every year and I know I
tried my best in every single race, that’s good enough for me.”

With these three at the helm, Temple’s
cross country’s future appears to be in good hands. Or on good feet.

Terrance McNeil can be reached at

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