As cross-country coach Adam Bray became aware of his impending hiring back in September, one of his first phone calls was with redshirt senior Travis Mahoney.
During the conversation, Mahoney relayed to his future coach what his goals were for his final season with the team: become the Atlantic 10 Conference champion, the Mid-Atlantic Regional champion and an All-American at the NCAA Championship event in Louisville, Ky.
“Yeah, we can do that,” Bray said.
Mahoney proved the first-year coach right, placing 37th at nationals on Nov. 17, and becoming the first cross-country athlete in Temple history to achieve All-American honors. The finish caps off a season in which both the men’s and women’s teams adjusted to a new style of training while also gearing up for next year’s transition to the Big East Conference.
“[Mahoney] is the best track & field athlete in school history, there’s no doubt about it,” Bray said. “I’ll argue that he’s one of the best athletes in Temple history with what he’s accomplished.”
“This year, we got to the conference meet and he felt good and he caught fire a little bit,” Bray added. “His talent came out, you saw it. His determination and talent have carried him through the success he’s had. He’s setting the bar high for guys who are following him, and he’s taking Temple athletics to a new level that it needs to be at.”
While Mahoney has been the obvious standout star of the program, both the men’s and women’s teams kicked off their season without the Old Bridge, N.J.-native at the Friend Invitational, a Temple hosted event thrown in honor of the late Roswell Friend, a graduate who died in August 2011. Sophomores Cullen Davis and Jenna Dubrow impressed at the meet, as both placed in their respective races.
Mahoney returned to cross country action for the first time in nearly two years on Oct. 2 at the Paul Short Invitational, placing sixth out of the 332 athletes who participated in what is consistently one of the largest pools of talent in the country. His finish was the best at Paul Short in school history, just one of the many records Mahoney would slash by the season’s end.
Mahoney would go on to win his next three races: the Leopard Invitational, A-10 Championship and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. He was the first Owl to win at any of the three events.
The A-10 Championship was a particularly notable event this year due to a number of reasons. For starters, it would be the final time both teams would participate in the meet before transitioning to the Big East next season. In addition, the event was hosted by Temple for the first time since it did so during the first A-10 Championship back in 1982, as both races were held at nearby Belmont Plateau.
With Mahoney’s victory at the A-10 Championship, the men’s team earned a program-best fourth-place finish, coming within six points of earning runner-up status.
Dubrow led the women’s team at the event, more than halving her placement last year with a 25th place finish. Aside from junior Anna Pavone, who cut her previous placement in half as well, the rest of the team struggled to keep up and placed 14th overall. Bray said he recognizes the team is in need of improvement.
“I think the men’s team is definitely further ahead than the women’s team,” Bray said. “The women are young. But you add some more pieces to the puzzle, and they can improve. A lot of it is confidence. That contributes a lot to success, and that’s what I’m trying to instill in them.”
The women’s team was hampered by the departure of freshman Christin Bettis who left the team due to personal reasons before the conference meet. In addition, freshman Janie Augustyn redshirted due to injury problems before the season.
Dubrow came into the season having led the team in each meet her freshman year. Her streak continued to 10, before it ended at the regional meet, where she was bested by Pavone for the first time. She was, however, able to jump back on top at the team’s final meet two weeks ago at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships.
“Training-wise, we’ve trained together all season, and even last year,” Dubrow said. “It’s nothing new. We’re always used to helping each other out and working together. [Pavone] did step it up, but that particular race wasn’t really my best. But ECAC’s turned out good for me. But it is a help when you have a teammate there to help you. You feel like you’re not alone and you have someone to work with.”
“I’m very happy with how we and everyone else on the team improved,” Dubrow added. “Coach Bray guided us properly and made the coaching transition smooth.”
As for his part with both teams, Bray said he was able to bring a sense of organization to the teams that was lacking in the past.
“I think I was able to bring more of a structure than what they had in the past,” Bray said. “It was kind of ‘go as you please’ in the past. Now we’re at practice and doing what is expected every day. And they need to bring intensity to practice. At meets, they need to do things a certain way and carry themselves a certain way.”
“It’s been a learning process for a lot of them,” Bray added. “They’re still learning, there’s no doubt about that. We still have our up and down moments, but we’re getting better as a whole. That includes me. I don’t have all the answers. As a coach, you have to be willing to grow with the athletes.”
Bray, who has already recruited some runners to next year’s roster, remains optimistic about his team’s chances next season, with one notable exception.
“Here’s the thing – we’re losing [Mahoney],” Bray said. “He was our top guy, and that’s a big miss. But if those guys get just a little bit stronger and maybe one of those guys rises out a little better, the team next year will be better than the team this year. That I can guarantee you that if they all stay healthy and continue to improve.”
Mahoney himself has voiced a positive outlook at the team’s future after he departs this season.
“The guys are talented that are coming up,” Mahoney said after regionals. “I’ve always been in the spotlight the past two years but it’s hard to not acknowledge the guys behind me. [Will Kellar and Matthew Kacyon] are well ahead of where I was at two years ago. These guys have been tearing it up as well and they’re talented. They’ll make something of it, if they want to.”
Kellar, in particular, is a student-athlete who the team will learn a lot about this spring, and who has shown the potential to become an even better runner on the cross country course during his senior season next year, Bray said.
As for this season, however, what will likely be remembered is Mahoney and what he was able to accomplish for the program. Because for the first time ever, among the many Oklahoma State, Iona and Stanford jerseys down at the national event in Louisville, Ky., there was one that read Temple. For members of both teams, his journey to that point remains a source of great admiration.
“He’s a role model,” Dubrow said. “What he’s done, we all want to do, obviously. He got as far as you can and did amazing at the end of his career. I strive to do the same thing. He wasn’t always that good, he worked up to it. That’s inspirational to look at for anyone.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.