Cross country teams look for new leadership

All-Americans' departures leave roster void for men, women

Roster turnover is inevitable in collegiate sports, as athletes have but four brief years to compete before moving on. This harsh reality is hitting hard for the Virginia men’s and women’s cross country teams as they begin the 2013 season without several key contributors from past seasons.

The Cavalier men will be without the services of Zack Gates and Mark Amirault as they seek to defend their 2012 Southeast Regional title. The pair of All-American selections finished first and second for the Cavaliers at Nationals, respectively.

But the four remaining members of last year’s men’s squad that made a deep thrust into the postseason all return with their eyes set on claiming more postseason accolades.

“We return the nucleus of last year’s team,” men’s coach Pete Watson said. “If they realize their potential we will have a great team that can contend for an ACC title, try to defend that Regional title and improve our national title outlook.”

The United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association ranked the Virginia men second in the Southeast Region behind Eastern Kentucky.

To build on last year’s successes, the Cavaliers will rely on sophomore Kyle King to fill Gates’ vacated spot of No. 1 runner. In his first season of cross country competition, King finished fifth at the ACC Championship and 10th at the Southeast Regional Championship, receiving both All-ACC and All-Regional honors.

“What really hurts us is losing Zach Gates, but we have the people to step up and fill the void,” Watson said. “I think that weight is on Kyle King’s shoulders.”

As of now, the next four spots in the lineup are still up in the air. Sophomore Connor Rog impressed with his 18th place finish at ACC’s and his selection as ACC Freshman of the Year. Senior Thomas Porter is expected to be a big contributor after garnering All-ACC and All-Southeast Regional honors last season, while junior Drew Paisley brings experience to the table as a three-time competitor at the NCAA Championship.

A mix of veterans and newcomers will fill out the remainder of the squad. One exciting possibility is freshman Thomas Madden.

“Thomas Madden has the potential to make an impact immediately,” Watson said. “Even in the first week, you can tell he is going to be really good.”

Coach Todd Morgan faces similar challenges on the women’s side, searching for runners to fill the void left by Catherine White. White was a two-time All-American in cross country for both the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Cavaliers, but her impact in the weight room and during training will be missed as much as her ability on the course.

“You cannot replace Catherine’s leadership,” Morgan said. “[But] we’ve seen others step up and fill that void already. The returners have come back with a different mindset.”

Senior Barbara Strehler and junior Kathleen Stevens appear poised to shoulder the brunt of the responsibility of leading a team both in a race setting and during practice. Strehler consistently finished behind White as Virginia’s No. 2 runner, and is coming off an outdoor track campaign during which she earned a trip to the NCAA Championship in the 5000m.

Though Stevens disappointed after being the third Cavalier to cross the finish line at ACC’s in 2012, posting a meager 132nd place finish at Regionals, she progressed during the track season.

Earlier in the summer the NCAA granted a waiver allowing graduate student Vicky Fouhy to return for a second year of competition in America. The NCAA deemed one of Fouhy’s years running for England’s University of Birmingham did not count as a year of eligibility because she was training for an international competition.

The 2012 season was not kind to Fouhy, however, as she struggled mightily in what was her first-ever season of cross country. After gathering momentum in the outdoor track campaign, however, Fouhy figures to be a major factor for the Cavalier women.

“It’s going to be light years of difference,” Morgan said. “She had never run cross country until last year, and her development from day one until the day she left was night and day. It was like signing a new recruit.”

If runners such as King, Rog, Strehler and Stevens can develop into team leaders both on and off the track, the 2013 installments of the Virginia cross country teams can be as successful — if not more successful — than their predecessors.

“Our basic goal is we want to improve off of last year,” Morgan said. “We want to go back to the NCAA meet and be a national player, but we have a lot to earn and a lot to prove.”

related stories