By Taylor Smith
Despite having some big shoes to fill, the men’s cross country team sets their sites on a bright future as the season kicks off.
The team returns this season with some big names missing. Three All-North Coast Athletic Conference runners graduated last year and a fourth, senior Shane Brandt, is out for the season.
Brandt is out for the season with a torn tendon in his knee. Entering his third season, Coach Matt Wackerly said between Brandt and the team’s top 3 graduates from last year their top four runners are gone. But there are younger runners there to step up.
“I think guys like [sophomore] Landon Erb, [seniors] Nathan Kafity and Tyler Tomazic, all had really good summers and are committed to doing something special,” Wackerly said. “And so I think we can surprise some people.”
Kafity, one of the team captains, said he believes the team isn’t as consistent and solid as last year and looks a little more spread out than what it has been in the past.
He said there is still some hope, though.
We have a lot of potential,” Kafity said. “We’ve had some people show they can do big tings, but it’s still too early to tell.”
The team is going to have a lot on their hands for conference contention. The NCAA has both Alleghany and Wabash teams ranked in the top 20 in the nation.
Kafity said he believes Alleghany, ranked in the top 10 past five years, is coming down form their five year high after losing some big names and have a shot against them.
Wabash, number two in the conference last year, is also weaker and the top three schools (Alleghany, Wabash and OWU respectively) all lost their strongest runners, but still show a balance of young potential.
Wackerly said that Alleghany and Wabash are both returning with some outstanding teams.
“Alleghany brought in maybe the best freshman I’ve ever seen in the NCAC to be honest,” he said. “Ohio Sate doesn’t have guys as fast as him an he is in our conference.”
Wackerly said there is no shame in finishing third in this conference.
There is also a large freshman class this year that shows a lot of potential. With eight our of the 17 men on the team freshmen, Kafity said there is a great mix of guys on team that create a whole new dynamic.
Wackerly credits the upper classman for setting the pace and example for the large young group.
“Our seniors really done a good job in terms of leadership,” he said. “In terms of showing these younger runners what it means to be an Ohio Wesleyan cross country runner.”
Wackerly said he is not changing anything in his coaching method this year, but Kafity said that he is addressing a lot of the smaller details and that that is a sign of what a good coach will do.
The men’s cross country team has run at Kenyon and placed fifth of 11 at the OWU Invitational this past weekend. Their next meet is the pre-NCAC Invitational at Wooster Sept. 15.