Cross Country Opening 2012 Season on Friday

Women's team captain Mary Prakel

Women's team captain Mary Prakel

Aug. 29, 2012

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Army’s 2012 seven-meet cross country schedule will get under way on Friday when the Black Knights host the Army Open at the West Point Golf Course. The men’s 5K race will kick off at 4 p.m., with the women running the same course at 4:30. Slated to run against the new-look Black Knights are SUNY Maritime, Merchant Marine, Monroe, Ramapo and the College of New Rochelle (women).

For Army, the perspectives for the women and men vary greatly. Both teams graduated a plethora of significant contributors from a year ago, but the responses to those losses have been different.

On the women’s side, the Black Knights lost a pair of 2011 All-Patriot League performers in Chelsea Prahl and Marcie Nordt. To their benefit, however, this past spring was highlighted outstanding performances by the young members of the women’s distance contingent on the track, providing an aura of optimism as the cross country season approaches. Rising sophomore Lisa Junta became Army’s first individual ECAC track champion, capturing the 10,000-meter title at Princeton while also earning a bid to the NCAA Regionals.

Junta, who finished her Patriot League season tabbed the Rookie of the Meet at the outdoor championship, will lead from the front along with senior captain Mary Prakel. “Mary has set a great tone for the team,” said fifth-year head coach Troy Engle. “She’s proven herself to be an outstanding second lieutenant candidate and will be a phenomenal leader who will guide the team to good things, especially late in the season.”

Also fortifying the lineup this year will be junior Liz O’Donnell, who was the third Black Knight to cross the line at the 2011 league championship meet after being the conference’s top rookie her freshman season. O’Donnell’s track season in 2012 also showed promise, etching her name into the Army record books for some of the best finishes all-time in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs.

Army also welcomes back a pair of familiar faces in senior Jill Busby and junior Kelly Kingma. Busby, who spent the 2011 season away from the program, made waves beginning in her first season in uniform in 2009, posting Army’s top time in five meets, including a runner-up finish against rival Navy. Kingma, who was initially listed on the Black Knights’ roster her freshman season, spent the past two years competing with the West Point triathlon team.

Engle has also brought in an impressive group of newcomers to reinforce the experienced group of returners. Despite dealing with some injuries out of this summer’s Cadet Basic Training, Engle remains high on his class of 2016, especially Lindsay Gabow, who is expected to make an immediate impact.

“The key to our women’s success this fall is keeping everyone healthy,” remarked Engle. “We’ve got the manpower, we’ve got the horses and we absolutely have the depth to have an exciting season, particularly postseason, we’ve just got to stay healthy.

“Our job for the women is to say ‘whoa’ and rein them in, rather than ‘giddy up.’ On the men’s side, it’s the other way around.”

Just days away from opening their season, the Army men have yet to impress Engle and first-year assistant coach Shannon O’Brien. “Our guys came into camp behind where we had hoped they would be,” stated Engle. “We’re not in the kind of shape we need to be in to run competitively at this point of the year. We’ve got to put in a lot of work now to get where we need to be to run against Navy and the rest of the Patriot League.”

Army’s roster features four of its top-six finishers from last season’s conference meet, including second team all-league performer Dan Jester and the Black Knights’ No. 2 finisher Ricardo Galindo. But significant losses to graduation in constant contributors and vocal leaders Barrett LeHardy, Dan Nix and Mike Mitchell have made Engle apprehensive about the fall campaign.

“We have some guys who have the potential, I’m just waiting to see which of them show it early in the season,” said Engle. “We have a long way to go to where we want to be, but on a positive note, we have the talent. Ricky Galindo has the innate ability to be one of the top distance runners in the conference. Mark Castelli returning from surgery last season as well as three sophomores in Nathan Fisher, Andreas Kellas and Trevor Lafontaine who have the potential to have good, solid seasons, are also reasons for us to be excited. But we’ve got to have some of the upperclassmen step up. They have to stand up and want to take charge of this team from a competitive standpoint. That’s going to be our biggest test.”

Senior Kevin Russell, who was a consistent contributor during the 2011 cross country season, will serve as the men’s team captain this season. “Kevin will be a great captain,” said Engle. “He’s a miler who is making up a lot of lost time as a cross country runner, working on that 8K course.”

Similar to the women, a strong group of incoming freshmen will compete for some of the top spots on the roster. Army Prep School product Ludo Funfrock and former New Mexico State runner Eric Fenton have the ability to make their way into the lineup, as well as Hunter Firebaugh, Tom Giradot, Alex Duffy and Mitch Dutton, among others.

Friday’s meet marks the first of two consecutive home competitions for the Black Knights. The Army Open will help Engle gauge the progress the teams have made through preseason in a more competitive environment than daily practices, but the first true test will be the tri-meet the following week. Army will welcome regional contenders Cornell and Binghamton at the West Point Golf Course on Sept. 7, for the final home contest of the season.

The Black Knights’ schedule will follow a similar mold of years past with the Iona Meet of Champions at Van Cortlandt Park on Sept. 15, and the Paul Short Run at Lehigh on Sept. 28. Both races lead up to the Star Meet against rival Navy, which is scheduled for Oct. 13 in Annapolis, Md. Following the showdown with the Midshipmen, the postseason commences with the Patriot League Championships hosted by Colgate on Oct. 27, and concluding with the NCAA Regional Championships on Nov. 10 in Madison, Conn.

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