Under the new direction of first-year Head Coach Brandon Spalding, the men's cross country team will be infused with youth as it readies for the 2013 season. The Generals enter the fall with 10 combined sophomores and first-years, and only one senior in captain Kane Thomas (Seattle, Wash./Shorewood).
"Kane has been a great leader for us," noted Spalding. "He will continue to be that during the season. Already, a lot of the first-years and sophomores know what kind of stats he has put up in his career, and they know what kind of runner he is going to be. They are holding him to higher expectations, but they also know they can learn a lot from him."
The Generals will need Thomas' leadership with such a young core. Even with the lack of experience, Spalding understands the positives of beginning his first season with an untested team.
"This is a young group right now, where we can build up for the future," said Spalding. "This team is a eager group of guys. We have five first-years and five sophomores, so that's 10 guys who are going to be around each other the next two to three years."
The Blue and White return only three of the Top 7 scorers from a squad that took fifth at the 2012 ODAC Championship. Thomas led that group with a 19th-place finish at the league championship. Sophomores Levi Warring (Williamsburg, Va./Lafayette) and Blake Liebling (Ridgefield, Conn./Ridgefield) also finished in the team's Top 5, with Warring taking 28th and Liebling coming in 33rd.
"Obviously our Top 7 is going to have a lot of new faces in it, and even some of the returners may find themselves in a different order than they were in the previous year," explained Spalding. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are three to four first-years that have a shot to be in the Top 7 on the team."
A hidden gem for the Generals this year could be sophomore Jacob Strauss (Great Falls, Mont./Great Falls), according to Spalding. Strauss competed in four meets his first season and crossed the finish line with a time of 30:51.53 at the conference championship.
"You can tell Jacob really put in the work and the miles this summer, " said Spalding. "The way he has been competing these first two weeks, he could definitely be in our Top 7 all year."
From in the incoming class, Spalding expects Mac Strehler (Moseley, Va./Trinity Episcopal School) and Ian McDonald (Richmond, Va./Douglas S. Freeman) to push the returners. Strehler was a three-time all-state runner in cross country at Trinity Episcopal School in Virginia, while McDonald was a three-time all-district competitor at Douglas S. Freeman in Richmond.
"The fact is the first-years are going to be relied upon right away, but it can be an advantage to them," explained Spalding. "I keep telling them that they have a chance to contribute right away."
W&L opens the season at the ODAC Preview Meet hosted by Hampden-Sydney on Friday. The course will be set up exactly as it will be nine weeks from now when it will be used for the ODAC Championship.
"We are going out there and we are going to be competing our first time out," stated Spalding. "Some teams will kind of take a little more low-key approach, but we are not the type of program to race our way into shape. We aren't going to be holding anyone back, but just giving people a chance to race."
The Generals were picked to finish fourth in the ODAC preseason poll, behind Bridgewater, defending league champion Lynchburg and Guilford. Despite the projection of only being one spot better than where it finished last season, W&L knows that a lot can be learned this season.
"The team realizes that it might only be a small step forward this year, but we will see the bigger picture in two to three years," noted Spalding. "It is not something that we continue to harp on, but it is something that we tried to make them realize early on."
In a season of transition and youth for the Generals, the coaching staff and team believe the experiences this year will lead to even greater success down the road.
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