Two third-year students lead cross country into new season

A year ago, the Case Western Reserve University men’s cross country team fell in their opening race against John Carroll University (JCU) in the annual Sudeck Sunset Classic Stampede by only three points. The loss came despite having the two best times in the race, with Sam Merriman, then a third-year student, recording the top time of 19:24.0 and fellow third-year student Aidan DeSanto recording the second best time of 19:44.0.

The team then went on to take second place in its next two races, each against a larger collection of opposing schools. Towards the end of the year, the team began to slip down into 6th and 7th at their races, including finishing seventh out of eight teams in the University Athletic Association Championships.

The women’s cross country team followed a similar pattern. After defeating JCU and Ursuline College at the Sudeck Classic with strong performances from then-third-year runner Danielle Kulpins (first place) and then-second-year runner Jennifer Hoffmann (third place), the team could not close out another strong overall meet. The season culminated with a sixth place finish in the conference and an 11th place finish (out of 31) in the Great Lakes region.

After all was said and done, last year was less than extraordinary for CWRU. However, as our attention turns to the 2017-18 fall sports season, expectations are ready to be set for what fans will see this coming year.

Perhaps those expectations should be high. Merriman —now a fourth-year student— believes the men’s team holds more promise and has a chance to compete in the national championship race.

“Our end game goal is to reach nationals,” Merriman said.

Graduations can often hurt teams that had strong upperclassmen, and the Spartans are no strangers to this. However, Merriman noted that although the team lost one member of their top seven varsity squad, they regained a former member who had been away at a co-op last year, and he believes this will help retain the strong group that led their entire team.

On the women’s side, graduation shouldn’t have an effect. None of the top seven runners from a season ago graduated, and all will be back running for the team this season.

Along with graduations, every year brings in a certain air of mystery as first-year students are added to the roster. Although the first-year students joining the team this year have only been through a few short time trials and have yet to be tested in a collegiate race, Merriman feels confident that his new teammates will be fast.

There are several key components to a successful season in any sport. But Merriman is quick to point out that cross country is “a different beast” than most sports, and so the keys to success for this team will go deeper than just physical training. He firmly believes in Head Coach Kathy Lanese‘s ability to lead both teams through the grueling semester and to keep each runner ready to perform at the best of their ability.

Merriman gave Lanese high praise, boasting that she is a “very good coach” and will keep each team member in top mental and physical shape all season long.

“She has been to many nationals,” He said, citing the coach’s top flight experience as one of the reasons behind her success.

The upcoming season for CWRU will be long, and it will definitely be hard. There will be practices for each player where they will be pushed beyond their normal capabilities, and there will be practices where even the runners themselves will be amazed by their speed. Every student on this Spartan team has classes as well, and those will certainly not be easy or simple to keep up with. Yet Merriman puts his trust in Lanese to balance everything for the good of the team.

With expectations high, the action all begins Friday, Sept. 1 at the Spartans’ only home race of the season, the annual Sudeck Sunset Classic Stampede, held at the Squire Valleevue and Valley Ridge Farm.