13 return for Ken O’Brien

By Gary Tarantino

The 2008 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, Ken O’Brien, and the Massachusetts men’s cross country team have been chosen to repeat as A-10 Champions for the 2009 season behind a hefty veteran squad of 13 upperclassmen.

The Minutemen will compete in five events before the A-10 Championships on Oct. 31 in St. Louis, Mo. The men open their season on Sept. 12 with the Dartmouth Invitational in Hanover, N.H. A week later, the team will take on Connecticut, Maine and Vermont for its only home meet. The squad will then have two weeks of rest before competing in three events to finish out the regular season.

UMass competes again on Oct. 2 in the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, P.A., followed by the New England Championships eight days later in Boston, Mass. The Minutemen conclude their regular season in Terre Haute, Ind. to compete in the ISU Pre-Nationals on Oct. 17. The last two events the team will compete in are the NCAA Regional Qualifier in Boston on Nov. 14, and the IC4A Championships on Nov. 21 in New York.

The conference head coaches picked Richmond to finish behind the Minutemen, followed by Duquesne, Dayton, La Salle, Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s University. Rhode Island and Saint Bonaventure were picked to finish at the bottom of the 14-team conference, respectively.

The 2009 squad will be without their number-one runner from last year, Nils Fischer, and the team’s most consistent runner, Jesse Regnier, who graduated last spring. 

“It will be very difficult to replace the loss of Nils Fischer this fall. He became the catalyst that provided us the spark for the entire season,” O’Brien said. “Jesse Regnier was the team’s most consistent performer, and leader, from the day he won his first collegiate cross country race as a freshman at UMass, until his last race wearing a Minuteman uniform. I’d love a team of five Jesse Regniers every year.”

Instead, the Minutemen will look to 2008 All-Conference runner Jonathan Pierce and fellow seniors Nicolai Naranjo and Andrew Mulvaney. Last season at the Atlantic 10 Championships as a junior, Pierce finished first on the team, ninth overall. Nicolai Naranjo placed third on the team, 16th overall, and Andrew Mulvaney placed fourth on the team, 18th overall. This effort was crucial for UMass in capturing its second-ever Atlantic 10 crown by one point over Duquesne. The Massachusetts women’s cross country team is predicted to finish seventh (as they placed) at this years A-10 Championships, in a preseason ranking voted by the league’s head coaches. Richmond is selected to defend its 2008 A-10 title.

The rest of the A-10 Championship finishes are projected with Charlotte finishing second, followed by Dayton, Duquesne, La Salle, Xavier and Saint Joseph’s to finish eighth. Saint Louis follows with George Washington, Fordham, Rhode Island, Temple and Saint Bonaventure rounding out the bottom. No team is projected to make a big jump in the Championships from last season except La Salle, who finished eleventh last season and is expected to finish fifth this season.

The Minutewomen will also compete in five events before the A-10 Championships. Just as the men’s team, the women’s team will also open their season on Sept. 12 with the Dartmouth Invitational. The following week, will be against cross-state rival Boston College, as well as Vermont and Maine in Amherst. The Minutewomen will participate in the Paul Short Invitational and will make the trip to Boston on Oct. 10 to compete in the New England Championships.

UMass will have one final event before the A-10 Championships, the Albany Invitational on Oct. 17.

The Minutewomen will look to its two All-Conference runners to help remove itself from the middle of the A-10 to its pinnacle. Junior Shiyi Zan finished first for UMass in every event last season and in four out of those six events, she finished within the top 10 overall. Sophomore Karen Roa placed second for UMass in every event last season except for one where she placed fourth.

Gary Tarantino can be reached at [email protected]