The Middlebury men's cross country team has its sights set on higher and loftier aspirations in 2015 after a recent run of top-15 finishes nationally. Following a seventh-place finish in 2013 and 13th place a season ago during the NCAA Championship meets, the squad looks to improve its finish this year in Winnecone, Wisconsin.
Under the tutelage of fifth-year head coach Nicole Wilkerson, Middlebury brings back this fall a deep squad with plenty of experience. Thanks to four of the team's top-seven runners returning to the lineup, the future looks promising for the Panthers. The men's squad, ranked for the first time in the USTFCCCA preseason polls, enters the 2015 season in a tie for 16th.
No longer on the squad after walking across the graduation stage are a pair of All-NESCAC and All-Region performers in Kevin Wood and Wilder Schaaf. Wood recorded a 34th-place finish (24:36.7) on the 8K course during the NCAA meet, while Schaaf crossed the line in 40th (24:44.2). Also gone is Jacob Fox, a scorer all year including being one of the seven runners that took part in the NCAA meet.
Despite the absence of that particular trio, Wilkerson is thrilled for the 2015 season to be here. "I am ready for this coming year to start as I know the team has put in a lot of work this summer to be ready," said Wilkerson. "My outlook is optimistic, and I am very excited about this upcoming season as we welcome back a great core group of experienced and seasoned runners."
Pacing this year's edition of the roster will feature a squad bolstered with experience and youth, noted Wilkerson. "We are fortunate despite our losses to return such a strong lineup. These young men work well together and the experiences of last year will surely help them to improve on a daily basis."
Leading this group will be senior captains Sebastian Matt (pictured left) and Sam Cartwright as well as classmate Luke Carpinello, along with juniors Sam Klockenkemper and Brian Rich. Matt clocked a 25th-place time (26:04.8) at the NCAA regional and finished in the top-third of all participants in the national meet. Cartwright finished 50th (26:39.4) at the NCAA regional meet at Williams, while Carpinello battled injuries on and off all season and didn't compete in the championship races.
Klockenkemper was unable to compete due to an illness last fall and returns in 2015 focused and ready to contribute, while Rich was a top-seven performer last fall and "is an extremely consistent runner for us and reliable in races" according to Wilkerson.
"We are really excited to see how we get this team of veterans along with incoming runners to gel and work together," noted Wilkerson. "For us to be successful this fall, we need to stay healthy and injury free. We have a lot of talent and strength returning and with no dominant runner at this point, I could see us running as a pack that can be powerful in races throughout the season."
The Panthers will begin their season when they travel to southern New Hampshire to take part in the Dartmouth Invitational on September 12. They will host the annual Aldrich Invitational one week later on September 19, while the 2015 NESCAC Championship will be hosted on October 31 by Wesleyan.
"Our schedule remains very similar to past years where we have some smaller meets in order to focus on strategy," noted Wilkerson. "Those competitions will pay in larger meets where we can be ready. Ideally, the buildup of the season with the mix of the two will help us be ready for championship season in November."