PAT LONGOBARDI — Sports Writer
In most cases, when a team does not meet the standards they were hoping as the result of bad performance that is labeled the ‘turning point.’
The SCSU men’s cross country team raced well this year, but after the team’s sixth place finish at the NCAA Division II Northeast Regional Championships, they felt that they were in a position to do much better.
Second-year SCSU head coach John Wallin said it was a bit of a disappointment to see the way the team finished and not qualify for the national championships.“If you do not look at the last meet, we had a successful season,” he said. “The last meet was just a culmination of our season. We really should have finished no better than second. I compare this to losing like 42-0 in a football game.”
SCSU finished this year with three first place overall finishes in three of their first four meets. They also had one individual win when junior Brian Nill finished in first at the Connecticut College Invitational. The Owls came into the season with a larger squad than previous years of 12 members and they had another season to work with their head coach. Their second place finish at the Northeast- 10 Championships was the best overall finish as a team and at the championships in school history. They had three athletes who finished in the top 10.
Wallin said leading up to the regional meet, the team had proved they could compete with some of the other ranked schools in the country. “The conference meet was a competitive meet,” he said. “Southern, Stonehill and UMass-Lowell were very fast and competitive. We beat UMass-Lowell and we felt good because we were better. We felt ready to impress at the regional meet. It ended up not working out.”
SCSU assistant coach Nick Lara said he felt good about the team this year, but they did not meet their goals. “It is a step in the right direction,” he said. “We balanced our weaknesses and improved. We need to do the necessary work to do as much as we can. We were not as prepared [at the regional meet]. It is just the nature of the beast. It is a reminder to get better.”
Senior Josh Perry said the team did well, but the finish at regionals really hurt. Perry had earned USTFCCCA All-Region honors for his efforts this year. “We had one goal—to make the national meet,” he said. “We came in expecting to win every meet. At Regionals, I have no idea what happened. We just blew up mentally.”
Perry said he liked how the team competed with the top competition this year and it helped motivate them. “At the Kutztown Invitational, two teams we beat were in the national championships, which is disappointing,” he said. “The season went well in some places. We wanted to make it to nationals. We talked about it last year. We did not come through.”
Wallin said he had four guys this year who really had good seasons — Brian Nill, Corey DeLaCruz, Perry and Paul Ryskowski. “Corey had really good performances and really great cross country season,” he said. “Josh was great. He was top in the region and he is our number three guy. Those four guys should feel good.”
SCSU cracked the USTFCCCA NCAA rankings on numerous occasions this year with moments as high as No. 16. They were recently No. 22 before dropping out for the season after the regional meet. They were also mostly ranked second in the NCAA east region.