Twenty years cannot be made up in one year. But members of the men’s and women’s cross country teams said they believe they are on the right course.
In Pittsburgh Saturday, the Owls will compete in just their second Atlantic Ten Conference Championships since the programs were reestablished following a 20-year absence. Both teams finished 13th of 14 squads last season.
Assistant coach Todd Witzleben said the team is looking to move up a couple spots from last season’s finishes and hopefully crack the top ten.
Coach Stefanie Scalessa said building the program into a contender will be a slow process.
“We’re starting to do some recruiting,” she said. “The kids are doing a great job. It’s a process. It’s going to take a while.”
Both teams are full of underclassmen. Witzleben said the teams lack senior leadership, but remains positive about the underclassmen.
“It gives us some hope for the future,” he said. “They will learn their roles and bring in strong recruiting.”
The men’s team is coming off of a fifth-place finish at the Delaware Invitational Oct. 14. The women’s team has seen less success, finishing last among 35 teams at the Paul Short Invitation and 13th of 16 teams at the Delaware Invitational.
“I think Delaware gave us a lot of confidence,” sophomore Adin Mickle said. “It will help run even better at A-10.
“In our second year, in all honesty, we are growing with leaps and bounds,” Mickle continued.
Witzleben said he expects Mickle and freshman Dan Rinehart to lead the men this weekend. Rinehart has led the Owls in three of their five meets this season. Mickle is coming off an 11th place finish among a field of 115 runners at the Delaware Invitational
“The kid works really hard,” Witzleben said.
On the women’s side, Witzleben expects junior Shanice DePass, a newcomer, and freshman Joanna Duffey to pace the team.
Duffey led the Owls in their first four meets before DePass took the top spot at their last meet.
“They’re jelling as a team,” Witzleben said. “They’re working better together on the cross country course.”
The women have struggled this season, but DePass said she plans on putting the season behind them.
“Injury, pain, everybody’s coming out,” she said.
Witzleben said the Owls are trying to change the culture of the program. He said it was treated like a “walk on, intramural program.”
With less than a week to prepare for the A-10’s, Witzleben is trying to keep his runners rested and ready for the weekend.
“You change your composure as a coach,” he said.
Witzleben said he doesn’t want his runners to push themselves and try to make last second improvements this close to the race.
“It’s too late to try and do that,” he said.
Pete Dorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org