September 11, 2009

2009 Men's Cross Country Season Preview

Coming off a disappointing ODAC Championship meet last season in which Washington and Lee came in third place and, with only nine points separating first place from third place, Head Men’s Cross Country Coach John Tucker is optimistic about the potential of his 2009 team.

“We have the potential to be even better than we were last year,” Tucker stated. “We have a couple of very strong first-years and some much improved returning runners. We are young and untested after losing our top three runners from a year ago, but we could be stronger than a year ago.”

Those three runners mention by Tucker, All-ODAC performers Vance Berry, Michael Welsh and Alex Jackson, left a hole at the top of this lineup, but the improvement of some returning athletes, as well as some good-looking first-years has Tucker and his team excited about the prospects held by the 2009 campaign.

Juniors Jack Ivy (Memphis, Tenn./White Station), Rob George (Middletown, N.J./Middletown South) and Michael Shiplet (Jacksonville, Fla./Bartram Trail) all have the potential to take a step forward from last season’s performances and will be counted on to bring some leadership as the team’s co-captains.

According to Tucker, Ivy, who was an all-conference honoree following his eighth-place finish at the league meet last year, is “a runner who finishes the season strong and only gets better as the year progresses and will be among the team’s strongest runners.”

“Rob George has had a great summer and I think that he, as well as Michael Shiplet can really contribute for us,” Tucker added. “The captains are fully aware of the potential that we have and I think that they can really help us achieve our goals.”

Also returning for W&L are sophomores Robert Warneford-Thomson (Richmond, Va./Trinity Episcopal) and Matt Gossett (Atlanta, Ga./Wesleyan School), as well as senior Ben Stutts (Beverly Hills, Calif./Beverly Hills). This trio finished in 23rd, 28th and 27th place, respectively, at last season’s league meet and their development this season will be one key to the Generals reclaiming the ODAC crown.

Also returning is sophomore Ryan Henner (Avondale Estates, Ga./Chamblee), who has looked good in the preseason workouts, consistently finishing in the Top 3.

If Tucker is happy with the work being put in by his captains and his other returning runners, then the potential of some of his first-years has him very excited.

Two of the first-years that Tucker highlighted are Harrison Tucker (Richmond, Va./St. Christopher’s) and Tyler Gehrs (Alexandria, Va./St. Andrew’s). Both placed in the Top 5 of the team’s recent time trial, including Harrison Tucker coming in first, with a time 14 seconds faster than that of 2009 graduate Vance Berry last season.

“Both of these guys are in our Top 5 at the moment and that could change at any time throughout the year, but right now they look really good and I am excited to see what they can do,” noted Tucker.

The addition of junior Joe Stusek (Bozeman, Mont./Billings West) who looks to compete for the first time this season will prove key to the General’s success this season. Stusek was third in the time trials and has a chance to really shine for Tucker’s squad.

It is not just his first years that have been impressive in the early going as a total of seven runner posted times under 17:00 in the time trial, compared to only three last season (Tucker did note that Welsh did not run in last year’s trial, but would have broke the 17:00 mark).

“This is the first time that I have had that many runners run as fast as that in the trial,” Tucker exclaimed. “Again, we are young and rather untested, but the talent and potential is most definitely there.”

Tucker pointed out that he will have 9-10 runners competing for a spot in the Top 5 throughout the season, a nice problem to have.

“With that many guys pushing to make the Top 5, our depth is going to be much better,” Tucker said. “We had the three good runners last season, but didn’t quite have the depth at times. This year, I feel that our Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 runners are going to be able to contribute even more and it looks like we are still going to have few guys at the top.”

Tucker’s team is very motivated entering the season and their work ethic has mirrored that motivation.

“The guys are really working hard. It is a simple thing to do - work hard, improve as the year progresses and stay healthy,” Tucker said. “It’s simple, but by no means is it easy. I really like what I am seeing thus far. The guys know that they have a chance to be better than last season and that is what they are aiming for.”

Tucker also noted that his team may be flying beneath the radar a little bit.

“Teams see that we lost those three guys at the top, but they don’t realize what we have coming back,” he said. “I think that we will be able to sneak up on the league and it takes some pressure off of us. It really is a win-win situation. We have no pressure to win the league, but I feel that we have the talent to do so.”

The Generals’ season kicks off with the W&L Invitational on Sept. 11. The men’s race is slated to begin at 11:00 am.