Louise Huuki and the rest of her teammates didn’t take long to get acquainted.
With a women’s cross country roster mostly made up of freshmen, the majority of underclassmen has helped the team develop familiarity.
“It’s kind of cool that we are the majority,” Huuki, a freshman, said. “It doesn’t feel like high school where it is upperclassmen and underclassmen. Here there isn’t that division, we are one cohesive team.”
Next year, the team is set to return with seven runners on the roster and no seniors.
Currently the roster is composed of three seniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.
Cross country coach James Snyder said the youth makes for a lack of predictability for his young team.
“The most exciting part about a young group is that there is uncertainty,” Snyder said. “Uncertainty could be a good thing or could be a bad thing. I think the most important thing with the girls we have, is that they continue to develop, continue to grow. I’m really excited about this group because this is my first recruiting class here at Temple.”
Snyder’s first recruiting class consists of four freshmen – Catherine Pinson, Megan Connors, Katie Hayes and Huuki.
With two out-of-state recruits, Snyder is attempting to broaden the team’s recruiting approach. The track & field program is now being led by recently hired head coach Elvis Forde.
“We are trying to take a more national approach when we are recruiting,” Snyder said. “I think that’s something that Coach Forde exemplifies.”
From this recruitment class, Pinson has managed to stand out from the rest, recording times close to those of senior Jenna Dubrow, the Owls’ most dominant runner.
At the Big 5 Invitational last season, Dubrow, as a junior, ran the course in 15 minutes, 6.5 seconds. At that meet two weeks ago, Pinson ran the same course in 15:06.70, just two-tenths of a second slower than Dubrow’s performance in her junior year.
Other runners, though, were not surprised.
“With workouts and races, she’s right up there with [Dubrow],” sophomore Rachel Flynn said. “A lot of us aren’t used to that because we are used to it just being [Dubrow] and Andrea [Mathis], so now seeing a freshman up there its exciting because we can see where she can go as an individual, but also take us as a team.”
Pinson said her high benchmark set in the invitational is an opportunity to grow and develop as an athlete.
“I like to think that I am dedicated enough to bring me to a higher level, that’s what I wanted when I came here,” Pinson said. “I think that I can bring the want to train [to the team]. Once you race and the outcome is whatever it is, people are more receptive to where I’ve fallen. I work for the place that I get.”
This will be Pinson’s second year running cross country. Throughout high school, she played varsity soccer for three years and didn’t join the cross country team until her senior year.
With runners like Pinson, the team is continuing to improve, Flynn said.
“From last year to this year, we’ve made big steps, so I know each year we will continue to make those big steps,” Flynn said. “I think a lot of that will be the incoming girls because they will have to make an impact right away.”
Not only will Flynn be looked upon to step into a leadership role, but also to develop into one of the Owls’ top runners.
“Rachel Flynn is one of our top five [runners] on the team,” Snyder said. “She’s a former lacrosse player and comes to the sport with a different mindset. As a former lacrosse girl, she’s a little bit more competitive than most.”
Moving forward, the runners said they are optimistic for what the program’s future will look like.
“We are getting some pretty good competitive recruits from all over,” Huuki said. “So that’s exciting to add more talent to the team. I feel like the new coaching staff is trying to take it up a notch and become more competitive in our conference.”
Flynn shares similar thoughts as Huuki about the team’s potential in the American Athletic Conference championship meet. By her senior year, Flynn said she feels the team can be one of the conferences’ best.
“I think we can definitely be in the top three to five in the conference for cross country,” Flynn said.
But, a high finish in the American Athletic Conference will not be an easy task, Snyder said.
“[The American] is one of the most nationally competitive conferences for track & field in the NCAA,” Snyder said.
Edward Lefurge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Ed_LeFurge_III