PAT LONGOBARDI — Sports Writer
After a solid start to the season winning their first two meets and working their way up in the rankings, the SCSU men’s cross country team caught a glitch.
The team had a 28th place finish at the New England Championships in Boston, Mass. on Oct. 8.
Second-year head coach John Wallin said he did not even know if the team was going to run in the Connecticut College Invitational a week later.
“Health has been a big issue,” he said. “We decided to give them another opportunity because they had been battling digestive problems. We expect them to be in full force and run as expected.”
The decision turned out to be a good one and might have re-sparked this team, as the Owls won at the Connecticut College Invitational in Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, Conn.
Junior Brian Nill (Ridge, N.Y.) led the way at the invitational, placing first with a time of 25:27, for his first ever collegiate cross country win. Southern overall placed in four of the top five finishes.
The Owls are now ranked again in the national rankings at No. 22 and are second in the second in the NCAA Division II East Regional after taking second at the Northeast-10 Conference Championships in North Hampton, Mass. on Oct. 23.
Junior Corey De LaCruz (Alamogordo, N.M.) was one of three Owls to finish in the top 10 at the championships.
“I was kind of surprised,” Nill said. “In the second mile, I saw that he (Michael LeDuc of Connecticut College) was kind of tired. I heard coach tell me to keep running, and I did.”
Nill was also awarded the Northeast-10 Co-Athlete of the Week and was named ECAC Division II Athlete of the Week for efforts.
Senior Josh Perry (third) and juniors Corey DeLaCruz (fourth) and Paul Ryskowski (fifth) rounded out the top finishes for the Owls.
“We have won three of four, but we would have like four of four,” Wallin said. “It was circumstances that was out of our control. We plan to peak for nationals. We have been pretty good. We have had great individual performances. We need to learn how to peak earlier. We need to train through the NE-10s.”
The Owls’ other two wins were the CCSU Blue Devil Invitational and the Division II Cross Country Challenge.
Southern has now gained more momentum following the conference championships.
The Owls will try to get athletes into the final two meets of the season. The NCAA Division II Northeast Regional are on Nov. 6 and then the NCAA National Championships are on Nov. 19 before moving into the indoor track season.
“I think we are in a good position to run fast,” Nill said. “We need to run to the fullest of our capabilities, and we will surprise some teams.”
The Owls have not won the conference championship in the history of the conference.
Southern assistant coach Nick Lara, who is in his second season, says the team has been really committed to taking the next step throughout the season and have been training really hard.
“They are extra motivated with the different workouts to have success late in the season,” he said. “They just need to stay true to who they are. They are carrying a chip on their shoulder.”
Nill said the Owls are prepared and anxious to compete with the top teams.
“We are ready to go,” Nill said. “The teams will be on even courses. The next step is run with them (the top teams).”