Air Force Cross Country Prepares for 2006 Season
Sept. 19, 2006
Beginning its 50th season of competition, the Air Force cross country program looks to return to the national spotlight. Following a one-year absence from the NCAA Championships, the Falcons look to return to the season's final meet.
There will be a new look to the young Air Force men's team this season, as the Falcons graduated four of its five scoring runners from the 2006 Mountain West Conference meet.
"It's a whole new team," head coach Mark Stanforth said of his squad that features 13 freshmen and sophomores, compared to just six juniors and seniors.
Although Air Force will need to fill the void left by all-conference and all-region runners, Nick Wilson and Jeff Gosselin, the Falcons' season appears to be in good hands with a solid group of returning athletes. Despite their youth, the majority of the returning athletes collected valuable experience during the past season.
"This is a very deep team," Stanforth commented on the experience his young team has. "I can honestly see eight or 10 guys vying for a spot within the top five. We're going to run close."
Eight of last year's freshmen return to the racecourse, including two which competed at the conference championships. Sophomore Sean Houseworth saw action in six meets for Air Force, including the conference and regional meets, while classmate Matt Williams, who was the Falcons' top finisher at the annual Air Force Open, also competed at the MWC meet.
Air Force returns six more sophomores that were strong contributors on the junior varsity squad during their initial campaigns. Scott Balcao, Daniel Castle, Parker Cowles, Kyle Jones, Justin Mason and Sebastian Ortiz all saw action in at least four meets last season.
Balcao finished within the top-half of the field at two meets, while the entire squad placed among the upper echelon of competitors at the annual Fort Hays Invitational, where the Falcons picked up their second consecutive team title.
In addition, sophomore Joe Curran joins the program after red-shirting his freshman season at the Academy. Curran, a 2005 transfer from the U.S. Military Academy, placed 40th at the Patriot League Championships during his lone season with the Black Knights.
The Falcons also return a strong quartet of juniors that have successfully proven themselves at the varsity and junior varsity levels.
Josh Van Wyngaarden was a scoring threat for the Falcons at both the conference and regional meets, finishing fourth amongst the Air Force scorers at the NCAA Regionals. Classmate Calvin Glass finished just one place out of scoring for Air Force at the conference championships. In addition, Glass was one of just two non-seniors to score for the Falcons during their winning endeavor at the Woody Greeno Invitational.
Fellow juniors Kenny Grosselin and Ian McFarland also gained valuable experience, as members of the Falcons' "B" squad. Grosselin was the Falcons' top finisher at the Rocky Mountain Shootout, placing within the top fourth of the 127-member field. McFarland was close behind in that meet, finishing as the second-fastest Falcon.
The 2006 squad will be guided by seniors Jason Beck and Richard Elmore, who will serve as the co-captains of the team this season. Beck saw action in four meets as a junior, picking up a pair of top-12 scoring finishes. Elmore competed in six meets, including the conference and regional meets. A MWC Athlete of the Week in 2004, Elmore was the highest-scoring non-senior at the MWC meet.
Air Force also welcomes a quartet of talented freshmen into the mix. Austin Fritzke was the state champion at the
As always, the Mountain West Conference Championships (Oct. 28) will prove to be challenging, although the final standings might not be as easy to predict as in the past. According to Stanforth, six-time champion BYU is the favorite to repeat once again, but with key deletions and new additions on most of the conference rosters, the field is wide open.
Stanforth is incredibly pleased with the summer workout regimes of his returning and incoming athletes. He knows that their dedication will prove its worth once the season begins.
"They're not afraid to go after it," Stanforth commented on the Falcons' individual summer conditioning. "(Prior to their leave) we sat down and discussed a training routine for the summer. The guys agreed with that and then added more. They want to be good."
With its depth and youthful promise, the 50th installment of the Air Force cross country team promises to provide an impressive addition to the program's records.
The Air Force women's cross country program celebrates 30 years of competition in 2006. The season will be marked by an experienced group of athletes and three new Falcons that bring a lot of promise to the lineup. With no more than three athletes in any given class, the Falcons will depend on one another to return to the upper half of the Mountain West Conference.
Although the Falcons will be without recently graduated captain Andrea Pinchak and all-conference selection Nicole Graham, Air Force will be in good hands. Due to the small size of last year's squad, the returning runners earned valuable experience, as four competed in every race.
"This team is definitely an experienced one," head coach Mark Stanforth said. "We're a small team, so health is always an issue. But if we can stay healthy, I think this team will be quite a bit better than last year."
The backbone of the Falcons' squad will be its senior class. The class of 2007 is headlined by Margaret Frash, who excelled on and off of the race course as a junior, earning numerous academic honors while finishing as the top scoring non-senior in nearly every meet.
She will be joined by classmate Ashley Culp, who returns to the Falcons' roster after missing her junior campaign with an injury. Although she was off of the track for a year, Culp was a scoring contributor at the 2004 Mountain West Conference and NCAA Regional meets.
Although there are only two juniors, they both bring a wealth of experience to the team. Despite missing the middle of her sophomore season due to illness, Kelly Robinson is no stranger to the competition along the
Classmate Kate Papenberg competed in every meet for Air Force as a sophomore. Her season-best finish came at the Woody Greeno Invitational, where she finished 37th in a field of over 275.
Two of the Falcons' sophomores look to continue at the pace of their first season, which saw them compete in every meet, including the MWC and regional championships.
Jamie Illig clocked three times that fell within just .04 seconds of one another, highlighted by a season-best performance at the Woody Greeno Invitational.
Classmate Danielle Pozun saved one of her best times for the end of the season, as her top time of the year came at the conference championships, where she was Air Force's second-fastest non-senior.
And although she did not compete for Air Force as a freshman, fellow sophomore Silvana Simeon brings some validation to the course as well. She was the runner-up in the 3200-meter run at the
In addition to the strong class of incumbants, Air Force welcomes an impressive trio of freshmen to the lineup this year, each hoping to make an impact on the team. Crossing the finish line in 10:42, Brittany Morreale recorded the fastest time in the 3200-meter run ever by a female Air Force recruit.
She will be joined by Air Force fledglings Katherine Anderson and Alison Romanko.
Stanforth is very pleased with the combination of returning and incoming talent. After spending a season with hardly any depth in the rotation, he knows that the experience will only help the returning Falcons in the future.
With a healthy Culp and Robinson returning to the lineup, as well as experienced veterans in Frash, Illig, Papenberg and Pozun, the future of the Air Force program seems to be in good hands.
Once again, BYU is the projected favorite at the Mountain West Conference championships, having won 16 straight titles dating back to its days in the Western Athletic Conference. Although Stanforth expects
The Falcons will also look to improve on their 10th-place team finish at the NCAA Regional Championships, although the race promises to be just as tough amongst the conference schools at the regional level.
As the Falcons embark on their 30th season of competition, the sky is the limit. With a healthy group of veterans and an impressive trio of incoming freshmen, the 2006 women's cross country team could set itself apart from the teams in the past.