PAULA CAPUTO — Staff Writer
While the rest of Southern’s students are sleeping, the Owls men’s cross country team is waking up to the grind of early morning practice. That’s seven days a week on top of additional afternoon practices. But every droplet of blood and sweat and tears, has paid off.
The Southern men’s cross country team opened the season with a first place victory at the 23rd Annual Blue Devil Cross Country Invitational in New Britain. Five of the top 10 fastest individual times belonged to the SCSU runners. Two weeks later, they claimed the top spot again at the 2011 Division II Cross Country Invitational in Kutztown, Penn., defeating two of the top ranked teams in the country. This time, they landed five finishes in the top 13. According to Coach John Wallin, the team hasn’t reached their full potential.
“They’ve done so far what we’ve expected them to do,” said Wallin. “We do have high expectations for them this season, and as the season goes on our expectations increase.”
Coach Nick Lara designs the workouts and said the team can run anywhere from 75 to 110 miles a week depending on the capabilities of the athlete. Although the expectations are high, the coaches said they refrain from pushing the team beyond their abilities.
“If you keep pushing the gas pedal down, eventually you’re going to run out of gas,” Wallin said. “There’s a fine line between making intelligent progressions and just pushing and pushing to the point where you’re going to break.”
The United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Top 25 Division II teams in the nation have ranked the Owls 16th after having them unranked just a week ago. The Owls also jumped to second in the NCAA Division II East Regional. Joshua Perry and Corey DeLaCruz, two of the star athletes that helped put the Owls on top, said they feel the pressure to keep it going.
“Not only do you want to be good for yourself,” said DeLaCruz, “but you also want to have a strong performance and help out the team as much as possible.”
Last season was a tough transition for the Owls. Wallin said the athletes had to physically and mentally adapt to the new program because the commitment was on a much higher level. Men’s cross country finished 36th in the New England, which meant major changes had to be made the coaches said. Still, even after how far they’ve come, the players don’t feel like they’ve shown their best.
“I’m not all surprised at what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Perry. “We haven’t even run that well yet. We can run much better than we have been and we will.”
One thing this team doesn’t lack is confidence. The only thing on their mind is winning and anything less is just not as sweet.
“I think we’re a top five team in New England, hands down,” Perry said. “If we all run like we can and we pack it up, definitely top five.”
According to Wallin and his players, they are capable of winning every meet they compete in all the way up to nationals.
“Just seeing everybody progress weekly is good motivation,” DeLaCruz said. “More confidence means better running, which means more winning.”