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Cross-country teams confident for 2010

After strong showings to cap last season, the Massachusetts cross-country teams have bright prospects for the upcoming season. Both teams boast returning veterans and some bright new talent that should shine this fall.

On the men’s side, the Minutemen are looking to build on last year’s second place finish in the Atlantic 10 Championship.

“We have a sandwich team,” UMass men’s coach Ken O’Brien said. “We have a bunch of older guys and a lot of younger ones too. It’s a very good group.”

Kevin Johnson, Andrew McCann and Zachary Gordon finished in the top 15, and therefore were named to the All-Conference team for their efforts.

David Johnson finished just two seconds out of 15th place. Other than McCann, these runners will be back in Amherst for the upcoming season, while the Minutemen also return 13 other runners.

In addition to the veterans returning, there are five freshmen being added to the team this year. These young competitors add a fresh element to what otherwise is a team entirely made up of upperclassmen.

O’Brien said he is expecting his freshmen to step up for the team immediately.

“The younger guys can contribute,” O’Brian said. “By the time they hit the second half of the season, they’ll have adjusted to the longer distance [in collegiate cross-country] and will combine with the older runners to give us a formidable team.”

As the Minutemen enter the season, they look forward to competing in a strong conference. Last year’s conference champion, Saint Joseph’s, returns four of its top five finishers from the A-10 Championship meet last year. Dayton returns the individual winners from the A-10 Championships in Chris Lemon and his brother Matt, who also finished in the top nine of that race.

The Minutewomen are a young squad looking to make their name while building on last year’s strong third place finish  at the A-10 Championships.

UMass has no seniors this year. In fact, 11 of the 20 members of the team are freshmen and sophomores. This season, A-10 Rookie of the Year Courtney Baldwin and redshirt senior Shiyi Zan return to the Minutewomen in hopes of mentoring their younger teammates.

The A-10 women’s coaches have predicted a sixth-place finish for UMass this season, behind Richmond and La Salle, two teams that the Minutewomen beat in the A-10 Championships last season. Dayton and Charlotte, the champion and runner-up respectively from last year, are favored once again to lead the conference

Both teams will have seven events in the upcoming season. The women start first with a meet against Boston College. Then, both teams have smaller meets at home and will compete in the Paul Short Invitational. The women then go to Warwick, R.I. for the Rothenberg race, while the men head to the Chili Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ariz. Both teams will compete in the A-10 Championships and the NCAA Regional Championships after that. The men will finally finish up the season at the IC4A Championships in the Bronx.

Ben Lambert can be reached at wlambert@student.umass.edu.

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