In the past five seasons, the Miami men’s cross country team has won first place in their season opener. However, their streak was snapped this season, as they recorded a fourth-place finish at the 2007 Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 7 in Gainesville, Fla.
The ‘Canes finished fifth in the same tournament a year ago, and still managed to be ranked as high as 11th in the South Region by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association in 2006. But with last year’s star Jon Scheiner having since graduated, the concern is whether this year’s team can maintain the consistency they displayed last year.
By no stretch were the Hurricanes an elite team last year, as they failed to gain a national ranking. But their 2006 season-opening win at the Nova Southeastern Sharks Invitational was one of two first-place finishes for the team. The question now becomes whether this year’s team can perform at a similar level.
With Scheiner gone, the ‘Canes are led by juniors Ryan Woodlee and Andrew Chuplis.
At the Mountain Dew Invitational, the Hurricanes had three players finish in the top 35, with Woodlee finishing 20th to lead the way. The tournament, however, was completely dominated by the University of Florida, who had 12 runners finish in the top 17. Florida is nationally ranked No. 28 as of Sept. 11.
“It wasn’t what we were aiming for,” Woodlee said. “It showed us that we had a lot of work to do. We weren’t all in the best shape, but we just went out there and competed. Everybody’s trying to see where we’re at right now.”
One positive for this team is their experience, as they have three seniors, five juniors and only one freshman. Although they lost three seniors last year, including Scheiner, the team is finding leadership from remaining players.
“Last year, we had a lot of seniors that made up our core group,” Woodlee said. “This year, we have a lot of talented juniors. We’ve got our core, but we’re finding leadership in different people.”
With a large number of upperclassmen on the roster, it will be important for them to set the example both on and off the field for the remainder of the team.
“Being a junior, I know how things work,” said Woodlee, who has taken the responsibility of mentoring the newer runners on the basics of being a college athlete, such as eating the proper food and maintaining good sleeping patterns. “Each year, you’ve got to mature and realize what you did wrong last year. The whole point of being an upperclassman is using everyone’s ideas to get the team together.”
Having run in only one meet so far, it is hard to analyze exactly where this team’s talent level stands. The picture will become somewhat clearer after Saturday when the ‘Canes will travel to Athens, Ga. for the University of Georgia Invite.
Overall, the cross country team sees itself as a vital part of the improvement of the entire track program collectively. With the track and field teams not competing until the spring, the cross country team hopes to provide a boost for them this semester.
“As a track program, we just want to be ready for the spring season,” Woodlee said. “We use cross country as a stepping stone. We want to give them a good start and for the morale to be high. If we run to our potential and show the track team that we’re working hard, it’ll carry over.”
Joel Brown may be contacted at email@example.com.