2017 CACC Cross-Country Preview: League Features Exciting Teams And Runners

2017 CACC Cross-Country Preview: League Features Exciting Teams And Runners

by Doug DeBiase, CACC Associate Commissioner

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The 2017 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) men's and women's cross country seasons are slated to feature several competitive teams and runners throughout the fall. Both seasons kick off this weekend with several programs in action, as the next two months will be a buildup to the conference championship races on Sunday, Oct. 22, at White Clay Creek State Park in Newark, Del. (hosted by Goldey-Beacom College).

The following season preview takes a look at each team (men's and women's) as the 2017 campaign gets set to get underway.

The Bears will be under the guidance of head coach Lisa Morgan-Richman in 2017, as she takes over those duties in addition to serving as the men's and women's track & field coaches. Senior James Menendez will look to lead the men's squad this fall, while the women's side will be young with three freshmen and six sophomores comprising the roster.

The Cougars on the women's side will be led by Victoria Thaler, who earned All-CACC honors last season by finishing in the top 15 at the conference championship. On the men's side, sophomore Ryan Comstock will lead a young team, as last season as a freshman he was named CACC Rookie of the Week numerous times.

With the graduation of two-time All-CACC performer Eric Barton, sophomores Zigmund Fisher and Frank MacGregor will be charged with leading the Chestnut Hill College men's cross country team's steady progression toward the top of the league. Fisher was named the CACC Track Athlete and Rookie of the Year following the conference championship in the spring. The women's side will feature a bounty of returning student-athletes, including senior captain Emily Bensen-Abatangelo.

The Clippers (both men's and women's) open their season on Sunday, Sept. 10 at the annual Baruch Invitational, as it will be the first of several events to prep them for the conference championship in late October.

The men's squad returns four runners from 2016, including junior Darren Guzman, who had two top-20 finishes. Guzman's highest finish was second place at the Queensborough XC Invitational. Overall, the men's side had three top-10 team finishes last year. The women's team will be led by sophomore Kaitlynn Connor, who turned in a season-best fourth-place performance at last year's Purchase Invitational.

Felician men's cross country will be looking to replace the losses of three-time All-CACC performer and two-time Academic All-America Mike Secreti, as well as consistent back-of-the-pack scorer Connor Gillespie. What is left is a young team, where as many as five true freshmen and eight first-year collegiate runners could figure in the scoring. Senior Fernando Gomez and junior Andre Francisco are the top returnees. The women's team enters 2017 with a young team, with senior co-captain Kelly Murphy potentially the only runner above a sophomore. The Golden Falcons will scramble to replace the graduation losses of Sabrina Roldan and Kate Rohsler, 2016's top-two performers. Sophomore co-captain Valentina Gonzalez looks to move up in the pack.

The men's team improved quite a bit last year moving from 10th to fifth at the conference championship. Although the Lions graduated their first-ever recruiting class this past May they hope that a youth movement will help them continue the momentum to the top of the CACC.  The team will be led by seniors Patrick Parr and Tom Natoli. The women's team will return a strong group of returners and will look to get over the hump and bring home a CACC Championship. GCU has been close the last two years and this season they will be determined to bring a championship back to GCU. The squad benefits from the return of Jess Handsaker and Caylin Montoya.

Adam Quann is back for the men's team following an outstanding freshman campaign in which he was named CACC Player of the Week after ending 25th at the Paul Short Invitational.  He also was ninth at the GBC Fall Classic and 31st at the CACC Championship. Victor Rueda-Jimenez returns for his senior season and was one of two on the squad last year to compete in all seven races. The women's team is paced by senior Crystal McCollum, who finished 18th at the DSU Hornet Invitational, 20th at the GBC Fall Classic and 51st at the CACC Championship. Katie Jensen is coming off a strong freshman campaign in which she ended 34th at the DSU Hornet Invitational, 35th at the GBC Fall Classic and 61st at the CACC Championship.

Senior Taurai Augustin is the men's team's top returnee, as he finished 19th overall at the CACC Championship (29:08.7). The team also returns sophomore Tom Hammond and John Orozco who competed in five and seven meets respectively last season. The rest of the roster is filled with freshmen and first-time cross country runners. The women's team returns just three runners from a year ago in juniors Haile BowersErin Hutt and Carley Oldfield.  The Tigers' roster features four new freshmen and a junior transfer from Mississippi Valley State (De Havalan Watts).

Head Coach Dave Thomas and his women's team will seek their fourth consecutive CACC Championship in 2017.  The women have six newcomers (five freshman, one senior) and the men have three (one freshman, one graduate transfer from Bryant University and a junior newcomer). The men's side will look to capture the program's second CACC title in the last four years and the first since the 2014 campaign.

The men's team will feature several upperclassmen this year, including four juniors and senior Thomas TrottAriana Nash and Sidney Gall provide senior leadership for the women's squad, as Nash has been one of the finest competitors in the conference over the last several years by racking up numerous All-CACC accolades. She finished 12th at last year's women's championship event.

The Eagles on the men's side will be young this season, as they must replace four seniors of the 2016 team, including John Ducham, who was an All-CACC performer in the sport. The women's team will feature the finest runner in the conference in Kendall Fitzgerald, who as a freshman last season, won the CACC women's race to be named the league's runner and rookie of the year. She was named the CACC Runner of the Week on several occasions in 2016.

The men's side will be very young this year, as five of the team's six competitors are freshmen. The lone returnee is junior Scott Jacobs. The women's team boasts the return of Elizabeth Sauers, who as a freshman in 2016 placed 15th at the league championship to earn All-CACC accolades.

The Wildcat men's team returns four runners that competed last year, including All-CACC performers Korey Jeffries (7th), and Miguel Suero (11th). WilmU, which is seeking its third-consecutive CACC crown in 2017, also brings back Jonathan AvilaJayven Davis, and Amani McMullen Wollfolk (redshirt last year). Head Coach Keith Jones also brought in NJCAA Region 19 Runner of the Year Mark Corrigan from Del Tech and freshman Jacob Puharic and Sean Scandle. The Wildcat women return six runners that competed on last year's squad including leading runner at the CACC's Rachel Jones (19th). Wilmington brought in a Third-Team All-Delaware State runner, Alexa Crowell.

The Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference is an NCAA Division II Conference composed of 14 institutions in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The member institutions are Bloomfield College, Caldwell University, Chestnut Hill College, Concordia (N.Y.) College, Dominican (N.Y.) College, Felician University, Georgian Court University, Goldey-Beacom College, Holy Family University, Thomas Jefferson University, Nyack College, Post University of Waterbury, University of the Sciences, and Wilmington University.