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Cross Country: Skilled freshmen will aid returning starters

Chris Hine | Thursday, August 23, 2007

A year older, a year better.

At least that’s what coaches Joe Piane and Tim Connelly hope their teams display this season. Both the men and women return a strong group of runners from teams that finished third in the Big East last season.

Junior Patrick Smyth and senior Jake Watson lead a men’s squad that captured first in the Crusader Invitational and the National Catholic Championship (NCC) in 2006. Smyth and Watson both posted top-10 finishes in the Big East meet last October, earning all-conference honors in the process. Men’s coach Joe Piane said he expects the same consistency from Smyth and big things from Watson this season and also expects some members of the freshmen class to contribute immediately.

“There’s two kids [Paul Springer and Dan Jackson] who I think who could step in and help us and the rest of our kids can help us down the road,” Piane. “In terms of cross-country, it’s a very good class.”

Senior Sunni Olding will anchor a group of runners that developed last year and improved as the season went along. The women placed first at the NCC and fifth at the Great Lakes Regional. Olding, who was named to the 2007 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American Track/Cross Country second team in June, is ready to race again after having off-season surgery.

“To be very honest with you, she wasn’t 100 percent last year,” Connelly said. “But she’s had a good summer and is ready to go.”

Connelly said he has high expectations for his team to win the Big East title this year because they have last year’s experience.

“Anytime you go into something like that that’s your goal,” Connelly said. “On paper it looks like we might be very good. We have our whole team back from last year plus we’ve got a handful of freshmen coming in that have the potential to contribute.”

Meanwhile, the incoming freshmen class can develop behind the experienced group of upperclassmen.

“There’s a pretty good group there that has the potential to come in and contribute, but at the same time there also a good group returning that kind of used last season as a start and built on that in the track season,” Connelly said.