Cross Country Set To Open Season At Seagull Open

Sept. 2, 2011

BALTIMORE - The Loyola University Maryland men’s and women’s cross country teams get their season started this weekend as the Greyhounds take part in the Seagull Open in Salisbury, Md., on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 9:50 a.m. Here is the 2011 season preview.

The women’s team enters the year ranked No. 14 in the Mid-Atlantic Region by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), the highest preseason ranking in program history for the Greyhounds. The squad finished third at the MAAC Championships last season and returns a very talented core of runners in Stephanie Gibney, Emily Doucette and Victoria Szczawinski, who finished 13th, 14th and 15th respectively at the conference championship meet.

“We have a good core group coming back, starting with our two captains Stephanie Gibney and Emily Doucette,” said head coach Rick Woods, who begins his tenth season at the helm of the Greyhounds. “I expect they will always be in the top five. Last year we had a nice situation where we really never knew who was going to be our top runner, and I think that’s a healthy situation to be in. I think we’re going to see that again this year with Emily Rooney and Jackie D’Antonio stepping up, along Victoria Szczawinski. Victoria finished as one of our top three runners last year. She’s a gutsy little kid and I don’t expect anything different from her this year.”

The squad also expects important contributions from Kiera Harrison, who broke the Loyola record in the 5,000-meter run during the indoor season.

“Kiera came on strong at the end of last season,” said Woods. “She had an amazing indoor track season where she broke the school record in the 5,000-meter run, but then had an injury toward spring. She’s recovered from that and her training is back on track so I expect that by the end of the season she’ll be one of our top runners as well.”

The women welcome a strong freshmen class that includes two Maryland state champions in Jessica Peters and Anna Bosse. Peters won the 1A State Championship in the two mile and Bosse won the 4A State Championship.

“The team as a whole has a lot of potential this year,” said captain Stephanie Gibney. “We have some great representatives from each grade including the incoming freshmen. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of individuals break their personal records and finish in much higher positions than last year. It should be fun to see how everyone comes together once the season starts.”

With a strong returning group to go with talented newcomers, the team wants to improve on their third-place finish at the MAAC Championships a year ago.

“The team’s goal is a top-three finish at the MAAC Championships,” stated Woods “We were third last year. If they put their season together well, and they stay healthy, and race smart at the conference championships, they can compete with the top teams.”

The men placed sixth at the MAAC Championships in 2010 and will be led by captains Matt Hassett and Ian McArtney. Hassett placed 26th at the conference championship meet and has come in ready to compete this season.

“We have a couple real good returning guys in Matt and Ian,” said Woods. “Matt has been working hard all summer. He’s come in really fit and so has DJ Puleo. Those two guys are running really well right now. If they stay healthy, they will challenge the top runners in the conference. Ian also has run well. He had a good track season last year and he’ll be one of our top guys.”

The squad will also look for contributions from returners Jonathan Verrengia, Tyler Ems and Eric Loose, along with newcomers Brian Grimes, Evan Wegenfield, Dan Paulsen and Ben Beidleman

“Ems trained well over the summer and I’m expecting him to be one of our top-five competitors,” said Woods. “Then we’re counting on Eric Loose and two walk-ons in Brian Grimes and Evan Wegenfield, who have both been training hard. We also have two freshmen with Dan Paulsen Ben Beidleman. Ben was a shorter distance competitor in high school, running the 400 and 800-meter events, so he has a lot of speed. If we can extend that out, he can be a factor as well.”

The team hopes to improve upon its sixth-place finish at the MAAC Championships and 25th-place showing at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional.

“We’re going to focus on keeping people healthy,” said Woods. “Last year they were sixth at the MAAC and I want to see them move up. DJ and Matt are going to have to run great races to reach that goal. When we get to Regionals, if we can finish in the top 20, we would be pretty pleased with our season.”

Woods has been pleased with the way the preseason has gone and says the team is ready race.

“Preseason has gone as expected,” said Woods. “We have two main objectives during the preseason. The first is getting our conditioning through the running and workouts, which is going pretty well. Second, we want to provide the right information to the student-athletes to make sure they can do the right things to prevent injuries, or to treat those little nagging things as soon as they arise. We have a great training room staff and they’ve been very helpful in keeping our runners healthy. It’s been a great preseason so far and we’re looking forward to getting into our competition.”

The squad heads to Salisbury, Md., to compete in the Seagull Open for their first intercollegiate competition of the year on Saturday, Sept. 3. The Greyhounds will use this race, along with other early season races, as learning experiences leading into the MAAC Championships.

“We want to try to learn something from our early season races,” said Woods. “The upperclassmen are pretty knowledgeable about the distances they are racing. We want them take this as a workout. We are going to start them at a specific pace and have them try to cut down on that pace about halfway through and then step on the throttle towards the end. We want the freshmen and newcomers to actually race it so they can test out the distance and see what it feels like. Their objective is to just learn the new distance. It’s a nice flat course so hopefully it will be a good gauge for them. We’re planning on finishing the race then spending the rest of the day at the beach, so hopefully we get some sunshine.”