After a very successful fall last year, both Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams are about to face another season which might be one of their most remarkable since the time the program was established, as Saint Leo University will host Regional, and for the first time in the school’s history, National Championships.
The fall of 2015 was the best season in the program’s history. Both the Men and the Women were more successful than any of the University’s cross country teams before them. The accomplishments include the Conference and Regional Championships on the Men’s side and 2nd places in the same competitions on the Women’s side. Also, both teams advanced to the NCAA National Championships.
Due to these facts it might be challenging for the Lions to repeat their success from last year. Nevertheless, both the teams have constantly been improving over the last couple of seasons, and to ensure that the team continues to develop, some changes have been made to the runners’ as well as the staff’s roster.
“After the success our program had last season, it will be very challenging to replicate [it]. However I believe that we will be able to replicate the conference championship on the men’s side and regain the women’s title. A more successful season would be finishing top 25 at NCAA’s and 1st place finishes on both sides at regionals” said Kent Reiber, the head coach of both the Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams.
Even though the upcoming season might be a little bit more challenging, it is already historical for both the runners and their fans, as after hosting Regional Championships last year, Saint Leo will host three cross country events this year including National Preview, Regional Championships, and National Championships, the last of which has never happened before. All of the races will be held at the Abbey golf course.
Because of the level of competition, the events will most likely gather significant numbers of competitors, as well as spectators, and in order to provide them with safety and pleasant experiences, preparing the environment will require good strategy and a lot of work. “The most challenging part of hosting three events this year will be getting enough help from volunteers. We would love for any students on campus who are interested in volunteering to reach out,” said Reiber.
Although hosting nationals is a significant event, and it might make the runners excited about the season, if the Lions want to participate in the competition and perform their best, they have to get ready for it and qualify. However, it seems as if the coaches have already planned how to help the runners perform at their best.
“Preparation is always different every year, specifically in the training. Each year a runner’s body adapts to training and in order to get better, we must modify our training to help change the physiological systems. This year we will be focusing on mental toughness specifically at the end of our training sessions. Furthermore, we will implement new race strategies this year which will help us perform better at elite/championship competitions,” said Reiber.
The practice strategy is not the only thing being altered, as the coaching staff has made some changes since last spring. Katie Henriksen, a former team captain at Division III cross country Wisconsin-La Crosse, joined the team this fall to become a graduate assistant coach.
“I think the transition was easier than I expected. I suspect it would have been harder had I become an assistant coach for the team that I ran on, but since it was a new team, I think that made the transition easier. I had previously been a captain at UW-La Crosse, so I was already used to a leadership role on a team, and I think assistant coaching just took it a step further. It also is easier since the team is small. Coach Reiber, and Coach Callahan were very helpful in training me as well, and continue to do so,” said Henriksen.
Because the Lions were so successful last fall, not much has been planned in regards to the roster. Nevertheless, due to a large number of graduating students, the team, especially on the Men’s side, lost many talented athletes including last year’s Sunshine State Conference Champion, Valentin Lenz, and 2013 Sunshine State Conference Champion, Carl Dunne. However, the lost talents have been quickly replaced by just as promising freshmen as the coaches put their best effort in recruiting new runners over the last couple of months.
“On the women’s side we have an extremely competitive program. Thus we made very minimal roster changes. We’ve added a local talent from the Clearwater area who should make a direct impact on our performances. On the men’s side we lost a tremendous amount of talent. We’ve added several top tier athletes who should not only make impacts at the conference level, but will also help us regionally and nationally,” said Reiber.
The runners, as well as the coaches, believe that the Lions might achieve success again this year, but there is still some work to be done. “From what I saw at the time trial and the first couple workouts, it looks like the team has quite a range of fitness. The top runners, both the men’s and women’s side look very good! I think one main focus needs to be making the 1-5 and 1-7 gap smaller. A team with depth is something to strive for,” said Henriksen.
Hopefully, the new dose of talent, the coaching experience of Coach Reiber and Coach Connor Callahan, as well as the leadership experience of Coach Henriksen will be a perfect combination to making this season memorable not only for the team but for the whole Saint Leo athletic program.
“I believe I can help the team to be successful by bringing my experience and knowledge of being a part of a championship program. UWL is one of the top programs in the Nation, and I’m used to being a part of that culture. I will hopefully be able to encourage and push the team to adopt that type of culture, in addition to training smart, and setting ambitious goals, not just for conference and regionals, but also for Nationals,” said Henriksen.
The Lions start their campaign on Sept. 2nd at Fire Short Course Invitational, hosted by Southeastern University in Holloway Park, Lakeland Florida. The competition is one of the seven races in which the Lions will participate this season if they qualify for the National Championships. The most important competition for the Lions will not start until October.
The first event hosted by Saint Leo University will be the Saint Leo National Preview on October 8th which will gather all the teams that would like to take the chance and run on the course on which the National Championships will be held. Stay tuned to the Lions’ Pride Newspaper as the season progresses, in order to receive all the new information about the Saint Leo Cross Country teams.