Because Cross Country competes somewhat infrequently in a spectator-unfriendly sport and was unable to match Zach Ahart's individual MAC Championship in 2013 or the contemporary success of UB's three conference champions in 2014-15, it would be easy to overlook the pair of teams, but each showed enough success in 2014, combined with minimal turnover, to set high expectations in 2015. Each team cracked their respective regional rankings, matched or bettered their best finishes at the MAC Championships in three years, and return their top runners to boot.
Alec Peinkofer (men)
After last year's MAC Championships, Men's Coach Todd Witzleben told me he felt a team needed two runners in the top ten to win the conference. With Cam Bruce injured, UB had none last year, but had showed consistent depth from their second through sixth runners all season. I thought over the summer than Peinkofer could be the guy to step up and run with Bruce in the lead group of races, but when the rosters were updated, he was no longer listed.
Cross country has lost folks midway through their eligibility somewhat frequently, so this isn't a terrible development, especially considering the Bulls lose no one else from their seven representatives at the MAC Championships, but it would have been nice to keep Peinkofer around.
Gabby Leo & Chrissy Clarkin (women)
The women lose two of their top seven at the MAC Championships in Leo and Clarkin, but only once in 2014 did either finish better amongst the team than their third (Clarkin) and fifth (Leo) showings at the Championships.
He entered last season as UB's clear number-one, and backed it up until a late-season foot injury. Given UB's ambitious scheduling this year, it'd be great to see someone else run with him, but on a senior-laden team Bruce is the best of the lot.
Fall Sports Player Preview: Ge to know harrier Cameron Bruce
In 2014 Bruce was the clear preseason favorite to lead the Bulls. After last fall and the improvements of Crimmmins, Kemp, Andrew Berge, and Justin Van Epps, maybe it's not so cut and dry in 2015, but there's no question that when it comes to leading the pack, no one yet has as much experience as the junior.
Corrine Birchard, Melinda Wheeler, & Amy Shaw
Meg Manley kind of overshadowed the mid- and long-distance crew in the most recent track season, but in Birchard and Wheeler the UB women return their top two finishers from the MAC Championships. If track results are anything to go on, Wheeler could drop a lot of time this year. Shaw followed up a consistent first cross country season at UB with a strong track season, as well.
Fall Sports Player Preview: Get to know Cross Country's Amy Shaw - Bull Run
While Birchard and (usually) Melinda Wheeler are probably good for the top spots among the leaders, it's important for UB to have that bellwether in the middle of its pack as well. It's reasonable to expect fellow juniors Meagan Hopkins and Bailey Kemp and senior Meaghan Wessel to regularly join her in the scoring groups, but none were as regular in the top five last year [as Shaw].
On the men's side, the Bulls will welcome in nine freshman to the team, the most prominent name being Monroe Woodbury's Jack Jibb. Jibb was a Section 9 Champion and New York State finalist in Cross Country in addition to his dominance in the steeplechase during the track and field seasons. Jibb also placed fourth in the New Balance High School National Championships and will be a name to watch this coming season.
In addition to Jibb, do not sleep on Adam Hunt, who comes from the national (boys and girls) powerhouse Fayetteville-Manlius dynasty that won its first Boys National Title in 2014 (The girls had won their eighth minutes earlier). Dan Muldoon's Liverpool team finished fourth. Also joining the squad are Itai Bezherano, Everett Geiger,Dylan Servos, Kevin Terragnoli, and Patrick Watts.
On the women's side the Bulls will welcome in seven new faces to the roster with one of the marquee names being Chardae Henry of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Henry placed 12th in the OFSAA Cross Country Championships and had personal bests of 4:31.57 in the 1,500 meter run and by track times is the fastest incoming freshman in program history. Also joining her on the roster is fellow Ontario native Rachel Barich who also competed at the national level in Canada, and Brittany Fuller, who was First Team All-NYS in Class B as a senior. The remainder of the women's recruits are New York natives Jill Decker, Lauren Reyda, Caroline Rusch, and Carlye Stella.
|5 Sept||Colgate Harry Lang Invitational|
|12 Sept||UB Stampede Invitational|
|19 Sept||Iona Meet of Champions (women only)|
|2 Oct||Lehigh Paul Short Invitational|
|17 Oct||Pre-Nationals @ Louisville|
|17 Oct||Canisius Alumni Classic|
|31 Oct||MAC Championships @ Akron|
Cross country has seven meets on the schedule this season; the men running in six and the women seven. On September 5th, both teams will open the season at the Harry Lang Invitational held by Colgate. Last season, the invitational featured just Colgate and Syracuse, so while there isn't yet a full list of teams that will be competing this season, however.
A week later the Bulls hold their annual UB Stampede Invitational at Beaver Island State Park. After the UB Stampede, each team gets a crack at the meets that shifted their seasons last year: the women will head to the Bronx for the Iona Meet of Champions, and both groups spend the next weekend in Pennsylvania for the Lehigh Paul Short Invitational. It's here in October that the squads raised expectations are revealed. After the prestigious Paul Short Invite, UB will send squads to NCAA Pre-Nationals held by Louisville, where the NCAA Championships will be held this coming season. Others will make the short drive down to Delaware Park to run in the Canisius Alumni Classic. The MAC Championships for both teams take place in Akron on Halloween.
With a solid and experienced core returning from last year's 4th place finish on the men's side and 7th place finish on the women's side in the MAC Championships, the cross country squads will be in prime position to improve upon their finishes in not only the MAC Championships, but the NCAA Regionals as well. The men in particular return nearly everyone from a group that missed their goal of top three in the MAC by literally seconds, while the women have finished with progressively lower scores in each of their current run of seventh-place finishes.
The contributions of some of the incoming freshmen such as Jack Jibb on the men's side and Chardae Henry on the women's side could help the teams get over the proverbial hump. Last season each group entered the regional rankings, and the men finished the season in the top 15. No one should be surprised by a repeat performance and improvement.