Being a young team is never easy, especially when the only upperclassman is a first-year graduate transfer student and the only returning athletes are sophomores.
That is the situation the men’s cross country team faced coming into the 2016 season.
Their 11-man roster is made up of five freshmen, five sophomores and one graduate student.
While some teams would struggle with that situation, freshman Kevin Lapsansky said the Owls are using it to their advantage.
“I think not having a lot of upperclassmen is beneficial to our team,” Lapsansky said. “We are a lot closer than I thought we would be, time and bonding-wise. … We are just kind of a huge pack of kids running around.”
That pack of kids has helped the team finish second at the Duquesne Duals, third at the Big 5 Invitational and fifth at the Rider Invitational.
“Our freshman group is very independent and they came in and were ready to work hard,” coach James Snyder said. “If you look at our roster we have had three or four freshmen in our top seven in every meet so far. You would be hard-pressed to find another team like that in the country.”
The inexperience of running in a large field caught up to the Owls on Saturday, when they finished 27th out of 38 teams at the Paul Short Run.
Last year, 11 of the 14 runners on the team were either freshmen or seniors.
Graduating four seniors helped make room for incoming freshmen and allowed the returning runners to cultivate the necessary skills to be leaders.
“I think last year when it was all seniors and freshmen it helped really prepare us for this year,” sophomore Ben Evans said. “We knew we would be the older kids this year, so we really soaked in everything we could. We don’t necessarily know everything, so we are kind of learning with the freshmen, but we can also help guide them with what we do know.”
Evans is one of the sophomores who Snyder wanted to step into a leadership role this season. He is one of Temple’s top runners this season, finishing 11th in the Duquesne Duals on Sept. 3 and 26th in the Big 5 Invitational on Sept. 9, but is now out with a season-ending leg injury.
Though he will no longer be able to lead on the course, Evans still plans to help the team.
“I’ve been through a lot now, so I can be there for them and tell them my experience and help them out,” Evans said. “I’m still going to go to all the races I can and just try and help them mentally.”
Though the Owls have had to overcome some challenges due to their ages, having a young team has its fair share of positives, Snyder said.
Snyder said this year will help strengthen the cross country program, which had struggled to retain runners after the men’s track & field team was one of the seven athletic programs cut in 2014.
While the cuts hurt recruitments at first, the cross country team has seen its largest numbers this year since the cut. The team had 10 runners in 2012 and eight in 2013 and 2014, compared to 11 this season.
Not only have the Owls brought in more runners since the track team was cut, but they have also brought in some of their fastest.
“Some of the freshmen we have brought in this year are faster than any of the freshmen we have ever brought in, even when we had a track team,” Snyder said.
Snyder, who has been with Temple since 2013 and was named head men’s and women’s cross country coach in July, places an emphasis on recruiting.
“My goal every year I’ve been here is to recruit better and better classes of athletes who can come in right away and train with who we have on the team,” Snyder said. “I want freshmen who can come in and train with our upperclassmen.”
Tessa Sayers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.