Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who are Villanova's Top Harriers for 2011?

The 2011 edition of the Villanova men's cross country team looks to be the deepest squad in several years. Villanova enters the season ranked 17th in the country and #2 in the Mid-Atlantic region. If Villanova is destined to over-achieve relative to that ranking, it will be due to the fact that, save for the loss of Hugo Beamish, the team returns all its key runners from last year and adds a major force in former Iona All-American Ryan Sheridan (Melville, NY). Nine or ten men look to be competitive for a spot on Villanova's Top-Seven.

Sheridan, if healthy, could assume the position as Villanova's #1 runner this fall. He was an All-American in both cross country (2009) and outdoor track (5000 meters, 2009) while competing at Iona College. He's a former New York State high school cross country champion, and Foot Locker cross country national finalist (where he finished 17th) -- all as a sophomore. At Iona, Sheridan won the 2009 NCAA East Regional at 5000 meters (14:12.90) and earned All-American status at outdoor nationals, where he ran 14:02.44 and 14:21.60. He followed up that outdoor season with a banner 2009 cross country season: he was 4th at Pre-Nats (8K in 23:46.7), won the conference title (8K in 25:37), won the NCAA East regional (10K in 30:36), and came home 12th at NCAA nationals in 29:47.4, earning a second All-American certificate. He did not compete during the 2010 outdoor or cross country seasons and transferred to Villanova in January 2011 in the aftermath of a coaching change at Iona. Sheridan boasts PRs of 28:55.95 for 10,000 meters, 14:00.59 for 5000i, 8:07.72 for 3000i, 4:07.08 for the mile, and 3:48.30 for 1500 meters. For cross country, Sheridan has a PRs of 23:46.7 for 8K and 29:47.4 over 10K.

The number 2 spot looks to be a battle between Mathew Mildenhall (Auckland, New Zealand) and Matt Kane (Fairfield, CT). Kane was Villanova's top finisher last year at the Notre Dame Invitational, the Penn State Invitational, and the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional, where he finished 7th overall. Mildenhall led the squad at both the Big East championships and at NCAA Nationals, where he was 46th overall. Either way, Villanova's top three harriers will likely be Sheridan, Kane, and Mildenhall in some sort of order.

Keith Capecci (New Hope, PA) looks to be next in line, on spot ahead of Brian Long (Louisville, KY). Capecci come home ahead of Long in 5 of the 6 races that they ran during 2010 cross season, the exception being Long's fine 12th place finish at NCAA Regionals (where Capecci was 17th). Capecci bested Long by 30 spots at NCAA Nationals. These five men are the most likely scorers for Villanova this season, absent the unpredictability of injuries.

Likely filling out the final spots on the Top-Seven will be Matt Gibney (Albury, Australia) and Carl Mackenzie (Lower Hutt, New Zealand). Gibney had a limited 2010 cross season due to injuries, but bested Mackenzie in 2 of the 3 races they both contested. Gibney was 29th at the Big East conference race, where Mackenzie was 62nd. At NCAA Regionals, Gibney was 55th to Mackenzie's 65th. At Nationals, however, Gibney (181st) faltered and came home 5 spots after Mackenzie (176th). By all accounts, however, for the first time in two years Gibney emerged from the outdoor season healthy and able to put in the base miles necessary for the cross country season. Perhaps he'll be able to seize a spot in the top 5 this season.

Joe LoRusso (Oakton, VA), redshirt freshman Sam McEntee (Perth, Australia), and Greg Morrin (Hockessin, DE) look to press from just outside the Top-Seven.

Villanova added two noteworthy true freshman to the squad this fall, one -- Tom Trainer -- from nearby LaSalle College High School in the Philadelphia suburbs, and one -- Rob Denault -- from Aurora, Ontario Canada. Trainer was 2011 Pennsylvania state runner-up at 3000 meters on the track, while Denault is the 2011 Canadian junior national champion at 1500 meters.

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