Air Force Men Out to Defend MWC Title
Aug. 30, 2004
For the first time since 1997, the Air Force men's cross country team enters the season as the defending conference champions. Although no Air Force team has won a conference crown in back-to-back years, this may be the year for that streak to end, as the Falcons return seven of the top nine runners that made last year's title a reality.
Another goal for the Air Force team is to return to the NCAA Championships, where the 2003 squad posted its best team finish in 37 years, notching an eighth-place mark.
"We've now been to the NCAA Championships three of the past four years," Air Force cross country coach Mark Stanforth said. "Our goal is to go back ... year after year."
One of the attributes that made last season such a success was the narrow gap of time between the runners in each race. Air Force was one of just three top-10 teams at the NCAA championships, including national champion Stanford, which saw less than 40 seconds separate the top five runners.
Keeping the gap between the top five runners should be possible, as the Falcons return much of their scoring output from one year ago. Although they will be without a pair of key all-conference and all-region runners in Chris Acs and Ben Payne, the returning Falcons can all be looked at to fill the void left by their graduation.
The front-runners to fill that void will be seniors Brian Dumm and Abe Wengel, who were chosen as co-captains for the upcoming season. Dumm collected top-five finishes at both the conference (24:52 - 8k) and regional (31:04 - 10k) meets, while earning first-team all-conference and all-region honors. Wengel picked up an all-conference second-team selection, backed by an 11th-place finish at the MWC meet.
Fellow seniors Kyle Davidson, Nathan Franz, Chris Gausepohl and Derek Storbeck saw significant action as members of the program's "B" team and each could challenge for a spot among the team's top seven runners. Davidson was the top Falcon finisher at the Air Force Open, while Storbeck claimed that honor at the Rocky Mountain Shootout.
The junior class may be one of the deepest and strongest on record, with the return of Anthony D'Amato, Jeff Gosselin, Matt Hellier, Travis Patterson, Mark Walter, Kalib Wilkinson and Nick Wilson.
Walter is just one of two returning runners to earn both all-conference (seventh-place) and all-region (18th-place) honors.
Gosselin, Wilkinson and Wilson were all significant contributors to the team's unparalleled success last season, as they all saw action at the conference, regional and national levels. Wilson earned all-conference second-team honors at the MWC championships with a 14th-place finish. (Gosselin narrowly missed earning all-MWC accolades with a 15th-place finish.)
D'Amato, Hellier and Patterson each saw considerable time on the "B" team, with D'Amato finishing fourth at the Fort Hays Invitational to lead the team to a second-place team finish. The trio also had strong track seasons as well.
With just two members, the sophomore class is the smallest of the returning classes, but Jason Beck and Richard Elmore can both make an impression on the squad. Beck and Elmore each ran in four meets last season; improving their times as the season moved forward.
In addition to the strong returning corps, Stanforth adds three competitive freshmen from around the country to the Air Force roster. Dan DeRusha, a native of Milford, Mich., assisted his high school team to the Michigan state cross country championship title with an eighth-place individual finish. Missouri native Ian McFarland (West Plains) concluded a high school career with fifth-place finishes at the Missouri state cross country championships and in the 3200-meter run at the state track championships. The Falcons' final recruit, Calvin Glass of Antelope, Calif., finished fourth at the California Div. 4 cross country meet and eighth in the 1600-meter run at the California state track championships.
As always, the Mountain West Conference looks to be a tough field, as three of the six teams advanced to the 2003 NCAA championships, including perennial conference front-runners, BYU and Colorado State. In fact, just 14 points separated the three teams at the conference meet, as Air Force halted the Cougars' streak of six straight conference titles.
"The level of competition is going to be really good this year at both the (Mountain West) conference and (Mountain) regional meets," Stanforth commented. "I can see the regional teams being at least as good as last year, if not better."
Stanforth has a positive outlook on the 2004 season, as he mixes an experienced group of returning athletes with a strong trio of newcomers. The Falcons are a dedicated and hard-working group of athletes, who look to retain their conference title and move higher and farther in the national rankings.