Aug. 11, 2004
Compiled by CollegeSports.com Staff
From NC State Athletics
RALEIGH, N.C. -- After earning yet another ACC championship in 2003, and placing both the men's and women's teams among the top 10 in the nation, the Wolfpack Cross Country program sees both potential and uncertainty as it heads into 2004. Both teams return multiple All-ACC runners, led by men's ACC champ Andy Smith. But the loss of six letterwinners from the men's squad, and the departure of five of the top 10 runners from the women's team leave both squads without experienced depth. Coach Rollie Geiger will depend heavily on big contributions from runners who have previously been on the sidelines, and hope for an immediate payoff from outstanding 2004 recruiting classes. "This year is going to be a challenge because we don't have the depth and experience that we have had over the past few years on either side of the program," says Geiger. "But that certainly doesn't mean that we can't be just as competitive as we have been year-in and year-out. As far as I'm concerned, nothing is changing. This is still NC State cross country, and we are going to continue to work hard and make our presence felt." The ACC has certainly felt the presence of NC State cross country. The Wolfpack has captured the men's and women's conference titles in the same year eight times - a feat no other school has accomplished. AT least one Wolfpack squad has been crowned conference champion each of the last nine years, and in 20 of the last 21 seasons. With that in mind, Geiger leaves no question as to what his goals are for the season. A coach of 28 conference championship squads in 25 years at NC State, Geiger believes his teams are capable of keeping the tradition of success going. "The goals always are, and continue to be for both programs, win the conference championship, qualify for the NCAA Championships from the regionals, and finish in the top 10 at the NCAA meet," Geiger says. "These are the goals of our program every single year, and the youth on our roster certainly isn't going to change our expectations." Last season the Wolfpack men captured their third consecutive ACC title, while the women placed second. At the NCAA Championships, both squads achieved their goal of finishing in the top 10. This year the ACC should continue to be one of the nation's deepest conferences, and the league's expansion will not make things easier. "North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, and Virginia in particular have been consistently good among the women and men for the last few years," Geiger says. "Virginia Tech comes in as a program with a strong history in cross country as well. But I know what we are capable of, and we have high expectations regardless of other programs." WOMEN N.C. State won 20 of the first 25 ACC titles in women's cross country, but in 2003 the Pack finished second, only four points away from another crown. State rallied to place sixth at the NCAA championships, and first among the six ACC teams which qualified. The season the Wolfpack hopes to regain top honors in the conference, but it will have to do so without four former All-ACC runners, including All-Americans Kristin Price and Megan Coombs. The cupboard is not bare, however, as the Pack returns three former all-conference honorees. Josianne Lauber (Sr., Oxford, Pa.) was stellar in 2002, helping State to the ACC title with her sixth-place finish at the NCAA meet. Lauber struggled at last year's ACC championships but rebounded to finish in the Pack's scoring five at the regional and national championships. Julia Lucas (Jr., Charlotte, N.C.) led the way for the Pack for much of last season. She was the top finished at the ACC championships, placing fourth, and finished 79th at the NCAA meet. She comes off a strong track season, having reached the NCAA championships in the 5,000-meters. Kristina Roth (Jr., Celina, Ohio) earned All-ACC honors as a freshman in 2002, placing ninth in the conference. Roth had her best race of the season last year at the NCAA championships, where she finished 86th. She also qualified for the NCAA championships in track for the steeplechase. "Josie, Julia, and Kris will really have to provide leadership for us this year, with so much of our lineup from the past few years now gone," Geiger says. "Josie is a very tough runner who is always at her best in cross country. Julia brings outstanding track speed and a real killer instinct. Kris combines those attributes a little bit. She really excels in cross country, but she has developed as a great steeplechaser, which is sort of like cross country on the track. Those three really give us a good mix and should push each other up front." A group of seniors will help fill the void left by the Pack's departed stars. Abigail Nelkie (Sr., West Branch, Mich.) and Janelle Vadnais (Sr., Massapequa, N.Y.) both played a key role in the Wolfpack's 2002 ACC title, placing among the team's five scorers at the conference meet. Erin Swain (Sr., Fairfax Station, Va.) competed for NC State at the 2001 NCAA championships. Ashley Seaton (Sr., Richmond, Va.) graduated from Virginia after playing a key role in the Cavaliers lineup, and has one year of eligibility remaining as she attends NC State for graduate school. Leslie Jimison (Jr., Greensboro, N.C.), Michelle Popple (Jr., Wake Forest, N.C.), and Ginger Wheeler (Jr., Winston-Salem, N.C.) will also compete for time in the starting lineup. Each has shown signs of improvement and will continue to work hard during the season. After redshirting last season, Jessica Durant (R-So., Hendersonville, N.C.), Jennifer Boyd (R-Fr., Chesapeake, Va.), Joanna Rodgers (R-Fr., Fairfax, Va.), and Jessie Yester (R-Fr., Dowington, Pa.) all appear to be ready for competition during the season. The Pack will count on contributions from its strong freshman class. Angelina Blackmon (Fr., Rock Hill, S.C.) was a two-time South Carolina state cross country champion and won seven state championships overall. Magin Kebert Fr., West Lafayette, Ind.) led her school to the 2002 state championship and was ranked number one in the nation at the 1,500-meters for part of the 2004 season. Christina Fiduccia (Fr., Barrington, Ill.) was an Illinois state champion and Amy Kelly (Fr., Philadelphia, Pa.) ran a 4:52 for the mile run and was a 23-time Catholic champion at St. Hubert High. Chapin Payne (Fr., Atlanta, Ga.) placed third in the steeplechase at the 2003 Junior Olympic national championship. Danielle Boucher (Fr., Cary, N.C.) was a two-time regional champion in cross country who placed sixth in the 2003 North Carolina state meet. Jessica Popple (Fr., Wake Forest, N.C.) was a four-year letterwinner during high school and joins her older sister Michelle on the Wolfpack roster. "On the women's side we are extremely young," Geiger says. "There are certainly going to be some freshman in our top seven, as opposed to last year when that wasn't the case at all. We have had success in the past with young freshmen and we expect that again this year." MEN Last season the Wolfpack men won their 12th ACC title and went on to finish 10th in the NCAA Championships. This year the team returns three former All-ACC runners, but holds the heavy task of replacing six departing team members. The biggest loss is two-time All-American and 2003 ACC runner-up Chad Pearson, who remains with the team this year as a graduate assistant coach. "Losing Chad is very big," Geiger says. "He was such a tough competitor at national championships and such a hard worker in practice. But when you compete at our level you constantly have to replace guys at a very high level, and hopefully you have some people already at that same level to help with the transition." Defending ACC champion Andy Smith (Sr., Hudson, Ohio) certainly fills that role. Smith ran 24:13 for the 8,000-meter course last year to become the Pack's eighth individual champion. It was his third all-conference performance in cross country, to go along with an All-America honor as a freshman in 2000. "Andy has consistently improved since he has been in Raleigh, and he could be one of the best runners in the country this fall," Geiger says. "He really broke through in track and finished second at the NCAA championships in the steeplechase, which is probably the event most like cross country. Andy is someone who could place in the top 10 at the NCAA meet if things go well." Andy is not the only member of the Smith family contributing to the Wolfpack's success. Younger brother Wesley Smith (So., Hudson, Ohio) came in as a freshman in 2003 and earned All-ACC honors for his 10th place finish at the conference meet. Classmate Bobby Mack (So., Winston-Salem, N.C.) also made an immediate impact, placing 13th at the ACC meet and them coming through in a big way at the NCAA championships, were he was State's record runner at 54th overall. Mack built on that performance in track, where he reached the NCAA finals in the 5,000-meters. "Wes and Bobby are only sophomores, but with a year of experience under their belts we are counting on them to really step up as team leaders this year," Geiger says. "We see them as people who can be All-Americans, and combine with Andy to give us a really strong front three." The Pack will count on Ricky Brookshire (Sr., Boone, N.C.) to return to the front of the ACC this season. Brookshire finished third at the ACC championships and 10th in the Southeast regional as a sophomore, and went on to win the ACC 5,000-meter title in track that spring. Last year he started strong, winning the Adidas Invitational, but was State's seventh runner, finishing 15th, at the ACC championships. Another runner with experience is Bryce Ruiz (So., Williamsburg, Va.) who returns after redshirting in 2003. As a freshman, Ruiz contributed to the Pack's conference title and was the ACC Rookie of the Year after placing 18th at the conference meet. "In terms of experience, Ricky and Bryce are really it, so we have to have them play a role this year," Geiger says. "Ricky has been at the very top of the conference, so he knows what it takes. Bryce has gotten much stronger in his redshirt year after we threw him straight into the fire as a freshman." John Crews (R-Fr., Glasgow, Va.), Stephen Furst (R-Fr., Goshen, N.Y.), and Chris Kollar (R-Fr., Strongsville, Ohio) will all hope to make an impact after redshirting last year. Patrick Chessar (R-So., Spokane, Wash.), a transfer from Spokane Falls Community College, has run under 30 minutes for 10,000 meters and could have an immediate role. State has perhaps the best recruiting class in school history. Gavin Coombs (Fr., Jewett City, Conn.), younger brother of former women's All-American Megan Coombs, won the national high school championship in the mile, and was a 17-time Connecticut state champ. Hometown product Nick Hutchins (Fr., Raleigh, N.C.) was the North Carolina 4A cross country champion and a FootLocker national finalist. Eric Mack (Fr., Winston-Salem, N.C.), younger brother of Bobby, was also a FootLocker finalist last year and placed third in the 2002 state cross country meet. Three-time North Carolina independent schools state champ Fredy Torres (Fr., Holly Springs, N.C.) also joins the Wolfpack lineup. "You can never say who, because you don't know how quickly individuals will respond to the transition to college running, but I am sure at least one of these freshmen will be in our scoring lineup by the end of the season," Geiger says. "I say that because we don't have quite the number of returners we've had in the past couple of years, but I say it mainly because all of these guys can just flat-out run."