Ready…set…GO! Men’s and women’s cross country start off their fall season on the right foot

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By Gabe Sturges

They ran.  Through the flowing plains of Sub-Saharan Africa and the pockmarked ascents of the Catskill Mountains.  In the early morning grass still glimmering with dew and the shadows of the setting sun providing silent accompaniment.  They ran for many reasons: escape, camaraderie, self-improvement; yet every man did so with a unifying purpose.  To harden himself, physically and mentally, for sport’s most punishing of proving grounds—the mudded fields and rooted trails of the cross country course.

The 2010 cross country season has arrived. The men and women of Union’s cross country team arrived early to campus, reuniting once again to train as family and forming the cohesive bond so necessary in such a grueling endeavor.  Lacing up their shoes, both morning and mid-day, early season training is a wearing ordeal—for both body and spirit, yet second year head coach John Houghton is rightly optimistic regarding the oncoming season.

“Returning this year is top runner, sophomore Gabe Sturges, along with a strong group of upperclassmen who have obviously worked very hard this summer in preparation for a great season,” Houghton noted.

Facing the loss of Captain Max Jack ‘10 and Zack Patnode ‘10, two of last year’s top harriers, the current squad smartly anticipated the loss and accordingly thrust itself wholeheartedly into training.  Along with Sturges, four of 2009’s top competitors—Brian Solinsky ‘13, Ethan Loew ‘13, Ian Schwartz ‘12, and Ben Lawrence ‘11 appear willing and able to continue their roles as the team’s nucleus.

Sure to make a strong impact are the three rookies, Alex Paolicelli ‘14, Peter Donnelly ‘14 and Carlo Civita ‘14, eager to test their meddle on the trails, as well as senior Dearon Pannosian, a perennial varsity presence who was abroad last autumn.

The women’s team faces a rebuilding year throughout nearly the entire top quintet.  With 2009’s top runner, national-caliber Sarah Tardiff ‘10, now an alumnae, the promise of an elite front-runner seemed bleak.  Becca Skudder, also a 2010 graduate, along with Anna Sise ‘12 and Ramsey Steiner ‘12, both abroad, join the cadre of absent athletes.

In anticipation of the major gaps, Coach Houghton recruited aggressively, leading to a contingent of over half a dozen girls from the class of 2014 and one girl from the class of 2013.

According to Houghton, “Although the team is without several key runners from last season due to graduation and terms abroad this fall, I am excited to welcome ten new faces to the program and looking for some positive contributions from the underclassmen.”

With such a myriad of new talent, the team’s top seven proves to be largely unknown, with only seniors Carolyn Canetti and Michelle Richter remaining from last year’s iteration. Angela McLelland, abroad this past year, should provide a solid addition to the youth-laden squad.  Based on several fast paced pre-season workouts, two freshmen, Manya Swick and Cara Zimmerman, have asserted themselves as team leaders, yet neither has yet to race in a 6k, the college women’s race distance.

Fellow rookies Hannah Lubart, Jacqueline Massare, Rachel Haber, Callie Aldrich, Elizabeth Nailing and Keilah Creedon all appear to have entered the season with strong base fitness and motivation.

With two weeks of training under the drawstrings of their running shorts, both teams tested their mettle this past weekend at the SUNY Cobleskill Fighting Tigers Invitational. Both the Dutchmen and Dutchwomen finished in fifth place. Zimmerman led the way for the women with an outstanding performance in the 5k. Runners with strong  finishes included Panossian, Richter, Donnelly, Sturges, and newcomer Kellah Creedon.

The Union runners will look to improve on their good start when they head to Oneonta on Friday.

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