Men’s cross country’s group of eight runners have their eyes set upon the postseason.
Despite losing two of its top players to graduation and featuring a roster that is mostly underclassmen, the men’s cross country team remains highly optimistic for its upcoming season.
Coach Eric Mobley in particular, who enters his fourth year coaching the team, is confident with the group of men the program has put together.
“We lost a couple of really good impact athletes, but that’s been offset with some of our freshmen,” Mobley said. “And the way Travis Mahoney has stepped up, we’re definitely looking for a better season, and we feel we can have a great year.”
Mahoney, a senior distance runner, has garnered numerous accomplishments during his first three years on the team, including earning Second Team All-American honors in the NCAA track and field championships earlier this year. He hopes to end his Temple career on a high note–something he said will benefit his efforts this season.
“I think the thing that’s going to help me the most is the fact that I’ll have a lot more drive as a senior, because it’s my last year, my last chance, and I want to go out with a bang,” Mahoney said.
Fellow senior Geoff Barletta, who has also been with the team since his freshman year in 2008, believes this year’s team can match its 2010 season.
Last year’s group was a “top running team,” Barletta said. But, he expects this year be “just as good, if not, better than last year.”
Joining the returning seniors are some quality sophomores, including Philip Fanz and Will Kellar, who both had strong spring seasons and “came on real strong last year,” Mobley said.
The returning second-year players have matured so quickly, in fact, that Mahoney said he no longer views them as sophomores. He calls them “upperclassmen.”
Although the freshmen group is what assistant coach Matt Jelley calls “as talented as any class we’ve ever had here,” he expects the team’s youth could present itself as an obstacle this season.
“Those four years make a big difference as far as development and strength so it’s difficult for freshmen to come in and make an impact,” Jelley said. “We’re going to go up against teams that are highly junior and senior laden. They’ve got that much time under their belt, with training, and they’re that much stronger. So it’s going to be a challenge. But if we can develop quickly, we have the talent to go far.”
When Jelley arrived as a coach at Temple in 2007, the cross country program was in the beginning stages of its reemergence from a 20-year hiatus.
“At that point, we were starting from scratch,” Jelley said. “There was no one here. So basically, we were building the team from the ground up.”
The team was then ranked 13 in the conference. Since that time, the team has moved up to fifth in the conference, and as high as eighth in the region. Jelley said he would like to improve on both of those figures this season.
The team will travel Saturday to Van Courtland Park in Bronx, N.Y. for its first meet of the season, the Brother Doyle Meet of Champions. The team has been preparing for this moment for quite some time.
“Coach Jelley had them on a plan for this summer and they, no pun intended, hit the ground running as soon as they got to campus,” graduate assistant Tony Mihalich said. “So they’ll be ready.”
As for Barletta, he said he is thrilled to begin his final season, and is grateful for what the program has done for him over the years.
“I’ve developed a lot as a person, and as a runner through my classes and coach Jelley and coach Tony,” Barletta said. “They’ve helped me develop into a lot better runner than I was in high school, and I’m excited for this year. We’re going to do real well.”
Mihalich too holds an overall sentiment of excitement for this year’s team, and regardless of roster size, he is convinced in the team’s chances to succeed.
“We only have eight guys for men’s cross country, which is a really small roster,” Mihalich said. “But when you look at the people at practice, those eight guys are the right eight guys.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com.