2011 X-C Preview: The Big East Men

September 15th, 2011 in Headlines by 0 Comments

It’s that time of year: Autumn is upon us, and with it comes cross-country! Having run some of the finest courses in the Big East Conference, Faster Than Forty’s Coach @ has covered the same terrain as many of these harriers. But this year’s Big East Championship will be held on a new, challenging course at Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, KY.

The Big East looks to once again be a dominant conferences in the NCAA. Over the last two years, three men’s squads have qualified for the NCAAs. With names like Treacy, O’Sullivan, and Fox at the helms of  the Providence, Villanova, and Syracuse men’s teams – it seems natural that these former elite runners have molded their programs into distance running factories and raised the bar for the rest of  the conference.

“The Big East has six ranked men’s teams, with Cincinnati currently on the outside looking in.  Our goal is to be in that mix and qualify for the NCAAs as a team,” says Bill Schnier, head coach of the University of Cincinnati. “That will not be easy since the Great Lakes Region is also very strong with six teams ranked in the top 40. However, it is a goal worth pursuing.”

Coach @’s Big East Teams To Watch

Syracuse – Powerhouse and defending champs. Enough said. With a 14th-place pre-season ranking, head coach Chris Fox (a former 27:53 10K and 2:13 marathon guy himself) has clearly taken the Orangemen to a national level. The team returns Pat Dupont, Forrest Misenti and senior Steve Weeks, all who finished in the Big East top 10 last year. Add junior, Tito Medrano – who won the 2010 Big East 10,000-meter outdoor track title in 29:45 – and Syracuse looks unstoppable in the conference. Dupont, Misenti, Weeks and Medrano – all experienced distance athletes – may bring a top-10 NCAA finish home for the Orangemen.

“We are excited about this season for both teams.  The men seem poised to put a great defense of their Big East title,” says Fox. “We are a veteran team and look forward to a great battle in Louisville.”

Providence – Ray Treacy’s Friars are my “sleeper” pick to upset the conference; you never know what new recruit has arrived from Ireland, England or New Zealand to help this fine program succeed. The Providence men are possibly the deepest team in the conference, which could be helpful if injuries come up during the fall.

Coming into the season ranked 17th in the NCAA polls, things look good for Providence. Along with the dominant 2010 Big East champion Lee Carey, the team returns Irishman Dave McCarthy, who was 2nd team All-American in the 3,000-meters last year. Add Dominic Channon – 55th at NCAAs – and the team could put together a nice season on the conference, regional, and national side. However, taking down Syracuse will require a strong 4th and 5th man in the likes of Irish freshman, Shane Quinn (who led the Friars in his college debut meet at Bryant College last week) or junior Eric Malnati.  Add freshman Brit, Ben Connor and Kiwi junior, Alex Wallace and Syracuse and Nova will have something to worry about.

“[Conference] is a wide open meet. We have our best team in years with two returning All-Americans in David and Lee,” says Treacy. ”Villanova has their best team in years as well and Syracuse will be going for three in a row. The course at Louisville will suit both Georgetown and the home team. This meet is a tough call and will come down to a great meet on the day for the winning team.”

Villanova – After carrying a 17th ranking last year in X-C going into NCAAs and an 18th place pre-season ranking this year, the ‘Nova men – led by coach and Irish mile legend Marcus O’Sullivan – look strong. Transfer Ryan Sheridan could make all the difference for the Wildcats.

“We’re really excited about this year as well feel it is the best team talent-wise we’ve had in many years. We have four seniors and two juniors in our top six, all of [whom] have NCAA experience,” says Villanova assistant, Adrian Billcoe. “We return our #1, #2, #3, #4, and #7 from last year’s team, which placed second at the Mid-Atlantic Regional and 23rd at the NCAA Championships.”

The Wildcats are led by Mat Mildenhall, who was 36th and 57th in the 2009 and 2010 NCAA meets, respectively. Add in Keith Capecci, who was 127th in 2010 and ran 14:06 over 5,000 meters; Matthew Kane, and Brian Long  (13:59 for 5,000 meters), Matthew Gibney (4th over 1,500 meters at the NCAA Outdoor – 3:38.4 last summer )

“We picked up Ryan Sheridan, who was 12th at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships running for Iona,” adds Billcoe. “Ryan is returning from injury after not racing since the 2010 NCAA Track & Field Championships.”

The other factor could be, Sam McEntee – a freshman, who ran 3:43.34 for 1,500 meters and 8:19.5 for 3,000 meters. Villanova has some track speed, but will it be enough to take down the Orangemen and Friars?

Men to Watch

Lee Carey, Providence – one of Treacy’s stellar understudies, who hails from Bedford, England – Carey returns to the forefront after winning the Big East 8K title last year in a controlled 24:56. He went on to peak and win the Northeast Regional, then finish 35th at the NCAAs. Carey should repeat, but he may have some company up front this year.

Eric Finan, Cincinatti – Finan (pictured) notched a 6th-place Big East cross-country finish last year for Cincinnati and went on to win the 5,000-meter title last spring in 14:11, as a junior. He could shake things up in the front pack.

“Eric was 60th in the NCAA cross country and 10th in the NCAA 5,000-meters last year and he is running better than ever,” says  coach Bill Schnier.  “His goal is to be a two-time All-American and qualify for the Olympic Trials.”

Matt Graham, Depaul – The DePaul junior, named Big East “Athlete of the Week” recently, will surely be in the running against Carey for the individual title. Last year he placed 3rd at the Big East Championships up from 14th in 2009 as a sophomore.

“Matt has reached a new level of maturity and discipline that will make him an even more effective competitor,” says DePaul assistant coach, Andrew Cracraft. “This progress will continue to allow him the discipline to to step up to any variety of competition – whether it is chasing a fast time, or responding to the variety of tactics that can play out over the 8K or 10K distances. His workouts have shown me that he is ready for a great season.”

Mat Midenhall, Villanova – Experience counts. He was 36th in 2009 & 57th in 2010 at NCAAs. He also ran 13:55 outdoors over 5000m and took the Big East indoor 3000m title.

“Mat ran 13:55 outdoors over 5000m, was the Big East indoor 3000m Champion, and has been a two-time All- American (2009 X-C, 2011 Indoor DMR),” says Coach Billcoe.

Our Prediction:

The 2011 Big East men’s team champion will be Syracuse!

Coach @ ran cross country and track at Boston College back in the days when it was a big East, not ACC, contender. He is aiming for a 1:18 half marathon this fall, now that he is old and gray. Contact him here.

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