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Season Preview: High Expectations for the Wilmington University Cross Country Teams Begin with 2013 WUXC Invite on Saturday
Expectations are high this fall for the Wilmington University cross country teams as each team returns a load of experience on top of bringing new, fresh talent to the Wildcats’ course.
Led by the longest tenured coach at Wilmington, Keith Jones will enter his 13th season at the helm of both Wildcats’ squad, thinking this will be the breakout year on both sides. Jones will be joined on the sidelines this season by second year assistant coach Jill Bosch and the highly distinguished former University of Delaware runner Andy Weaver in his first coaching season.
Both teams are coming off one of their best seasons to date, as the men captured the CACC Championship and the women sent an individual to the National Championship meet, both firsts in program history.
The schedule will once again challenge the Wildcats in the regular season, all in preparation for the CACC Championship on October 27 and the NCAA Division II East Regional Championship on November 9. The team remains in the state of Delaware for the first two weekends this season, first with hosting the 13th Annual WUXC Invite on September 7 before heading to the University of Delaware Invite #1 at White Clay Creek on September 14.
Following the first two weeks, Jones implemented a face lift to the 2013 schedule as he introduced three new meets for this season. The teams will travel to the UMass-Dartmouth Invite on September 21 to round out the month. As the calendar turns to October, the team will head to the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University on October 5 and the Princeton XC Invitational on October 19. The regular season culminates with the CACC Championship on Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on October 27.
“This year’s men’s team is going to pave the way to amazing success for years to come,” head coach Keith Jones said.
The men’s team lost one of the most decorated runners in program history in Bill Steele to graduation, but returns seven letterwinners from a year ago, including Mike O’Brian who finished third at the CACC Championships. O’Brian paced the team at the NCAA East Regional Meet as well, placing a team high 22nd. Following O’Brian to the finish line in Fairmount Park to help the team capture its first CACC Championship and returning to the 2013 squad are junior Richie Mitten (fourth), junior Matt Mossman (seventh) and reigning CACC Rookie of the Year Jesus Amezquita (eighth). Sophomore Quinn Marvel (23rd) also competed at the CACC Championship for the Wildcats and returns for his second season. Brandon Parker and Mike Wright also return to the Wildcats for their junior seasons after each raced in six events as a sophomore.
Joining the reigning CACC Champions are six newcomers, including four transfer students and two incoming freshman. Much like O’Brian, three new members of the 2013 squad transferred in from NCAA Division I and in-state rival University of Delaware. Mark Hannagan, Marshall Hawkins, and Nathan Parmenter all add desired depth to the talented roster. Tyler Muse joins the Wildcats from Harford Community College while Ken Fontal and Stephen Taylor bring younger legs to the program after graduating high school last spring.
“With the addition of several transfers, the men’s squad has the talent to be the best in school history,” Jones added. “Our goals are very high this fall, and I fully expect the men to achieve them.”
Struggling with depth for much of the 2012 season, the women’s team returns four individuals from last year’s squad while also adding five women to the 2013 team.
“The women’s team is set up to be a stronger pack running unit this year,” Jones said. “If everyone does their part, we should be in contention in October.”
Returning to the Wildcats this year are seniors Jeanette Halliburton, Whitney Hora, and SaraBeth Opperman. Halliburton is the low Wildcat returning from a team that finished fifth at the CACC Championships in 2012, placing fourth individually. Hora finished 21st overall at the CACC Championship while Oppermann battled injuries all season long, only competing in the first two events of the year before settling for a redshirt year. Jones also welcomes back Morgan Ferrick for her sophomore season after finishing 43rd at the CACC Championship.
Joining the Wildcats for the 2013 season is a pair Wildcats who formally participated in other sports at Wilmington. Soccer standout Penelope Fantis and lacrosse standout Chelsie Maher join the Wildcats for their first seasons on the cross country course. Tijen Ozcan comes to Wilmington after a successful cross country and mid-distance track career at the University of Delaware while Rachel Jones and Jordan Swain hop on board after high school careers at the Delaware Military Academy.
“Tijen Ozcan and SaraBeth Oppermann are poised to have a huge year,” continued Jones. “They have put in the work this summer and are ready to capitalize on their fitness.”
Having an individual reach the NCAA Division II National Championship meet raises the bar for both the men and women’s teams in 2013. The goal of the teams is to finish the season in Spokane, Washington, the site of the NCAA Division II National Championship on November 23, 2013.
Jones concluded, “This season is going to be the season that puts the Wilmington cross country program on the national map.”