The Washington and Lee men's cross country team enters the 2012 season with the goal to improve upon its sixth-place finish at the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championship last fall. The team and head coach John Tucker understand the challenge of this goal.
"The league has gotten incredibly stronger in the past couple of years," Head coach John Tucker said. "Lynchburg not only won ODAC's but also won the Southeast Region for the second year in a row. It is a much stronger league now than it was five years ago, and our guys now understand what it is going to take to compete in this conference."
W&L was recently picked seventh in the ODAC Preseason Poll with 50 points. Lynchburg (98 points) took the top spot with eight first-place votes, and Bridgewater (86) was slotted second with two first-place votes. The Blue and White returns six athletes from 2011, and adds six first-year athletes to the fold. The top two returners for the Generals are junior Kane Thomas and senior Tyler Gehrs.
"We have two potential all-league and all-region performers coming back in Thomas and Gehrs," Tucker said.
Thomas returns as one of the team's captains, and was the top finisher for W&L at the 2011 ODAC Championship, where he took 18th with a time of 27:16.
"Kane is poised to make a statement and accomplish some big things this season," Tucker said. "He will be right up there with the top of the league at the end of the year."
Gehrs enters his final season looking to build upon a strong junior campaign. He placed 29th at the ODAC Championships as the team's fourth-best finisher. It marked his best finish at ODAC's in three years, and was his fastest time of the season.
"Tyler had been hampered by little nagging injuries that kept him from competing up to his potential until last year," Tucker said. "He really came on toward the end of last season and performed at a different level."
Tucker is also looking to a couple of other runners to make the leap in to the scoring zone for the Generals. According to the head coach, one of the most promising returners is sophomore James Busch. He only competed in two races for W&L last year, but could step in to a scoring role this year.
"We have a third proven competitor among our returning runners in James Busch," Tucker said. "James had strong credentials coming out of high school, I wouldn't be surprised for him to be right in the top five for us."
The team's most improved runner last season, senior captain James Grasso, also returns after competing in every meet for the Blue and White in 2011.
"He has developed himself into a stronger runner than he was when he entered the program," Tucker said.
The Generals add six first-year athletes to the 2012 squad, and are prepared for the fresh faces to push the returners for the top spots on the team.
Warring comes from Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Va. He was All-Bay Rivers District in cross country his senior season, and earned seven letters over the course of his four years in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field.
Mack competed at La Jolla Country Day in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He earned All-CIF San Diego Section, All-Costal Conference and All-Pacific League honors during his prep career. His high school team also made the California State Championship all four years he was part of the squad.
The first step to overcoming some of the tougher teams in the conference comes tomorrow in the season-opening meet. W&L will travel to Harrisonburg, Va., to compete in the ODAC Preview Meet at Peakview Farms. The course will be the same one the Generals will compete at on October 27 at the ODAC Championship.
"Almost everything comes down to how effectively and how well you've prepared, and I think we're right there," Tucker said.