For the men’s and women’s cross country teams, 13 represents an unlucky number when it comes to the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship meet.
That’s because for the past two years, both teams have finished in that spot competing against the rest of the field. Saturday’s A-10 Championship meet, hosted by Saint Joseph’s at Belmont Plateau, marks the third time the Owls will race in the meet after a 20-year program hiatus.
Despite the recent finishes, the Owls are optimistic that progress can be made. One reason is the addition of coach Matt Jelley, who came to Temple in mid-September from Toms River North High, in Toms River, N.J. There, he coached the cross country and track and field teams. During his seven years, Jelley coached multiple championship teams and was named 2001 New Jersey Cross Country Coach of the Year by the Newark Star-Ledger.
“Matt has done an outstanding job with his knowledge of the sport and has shown the ability to build programs to be successful,” said coach Stefanie Scalessa, director of track and field. Jelley will join Scalessa for the track and field season as well, coaching the distance runners.
Scalessa said there is some pressure this season in performing well, especially at the conference championship. However, according to one of the runners, the attitude and approach that Jelley takes to the team has relieved the team of some of that pressure.
“He is a lot more than a coach, he is more like a father figure, with a big heart and someone that the team has confided in,” senior Noelle McKenzie said.
McKenzie also said Jelley takes a positive approach in dealing with all aspects of the sport and feels this has transferred to the rest of the team.
The women’s team has had an up-and-down season, but McKenzie said the Owls have come a long way since last year.
“I feel that we have improved from last year and are more established,” McKenzie said. “I think we are training better and coming into this season, we really had high expectations.”
Two of the better performances the women have had came in their first and most recent meets. On Sept. 1, the Owls placed fourth of eight teams at the Monmouth Cross Country Kickoff. On Oct. 13, at the Delaware Invitational, the Owls once again placed in the half way point, coming in sixth of 12 teams.
McKenzie and freshman Rebecca Mims have been a couple of the more consistent runners on the women’s side, sharing several close finishes among one another. At the Delaware Invitational, Mims finished the 4k race in 20:18, just before McKenzie finished with a 20:20.
On the men’s side, Adin Mickle is hoping to bring success to the Owls. The junior said he feels the team has improved and that a second-place finish at the Delaware Invitational will help their confidence, not only in the A-10 Championship, but for the rest of the season.
“The coaches are really adamant about us getting better with each race and hopefully becoming one of the best programs in the country in a few years,” Mickle said.
One of the more impressive performances Mickle has accomplished this season came at the first Delaware Invitational of the season, held on Sept. 15. There, he placed 11th out of 69 runners.
Mickle said the Owls are focusing their sights not only on the championship race as a whole, but on one team in particular.
“We want to beat St. Joes,” Mickle said. “I think they are ranked sixth or seventh in the conference and we feel that beating them would be a realistic goal and one that would be a big step forward. It is amazing how much better we have become.”
Kevin Smiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.