Things are looking up for Hillsdale’s cross country program.
After falling short by only 19 points last season, the men are hoping to make the national meet for the first time since 2004. The women are looking to return to the national competition with a talented group of freshmen after losing three of their top seven runners from last year’s team.
“There’s no doubt that last year’s class did some tremendous things for our program,” head coach Andrew Towne said. “But we’re really excited about where we’re at on a consistent level now. I think we’re in a position to consistently meet one of our objects, which is to be a podium team.”
Towne also said he was excited that the men’s and women’s team are now “compatible” in their ability to be successful. In the past two seasons, the women’s team has placed second and third at the national meet, while the men sent just one runner in 2014.
After only losing one runner from last year’s roster, the men return eight, while bringing on six freshmen and two transfer students.
Seniors Caleb Gatchell and Joe Newcomb, and junior Tony Wondaal qualified for outdoor track nationals last spring and will look to continue their success this fall. Kearney said the team “gained a lot of momentum” during last year’s outdoor track season.
Kearney also said she believes some of the freshmen and transfers will run in the top seven, or even top five, of the team in races.
“It’ll be exciting to see what the incoming people can do,” she said. “Keeping the veterans on their toes.”
Newcomb has high expectations for himself and his team this season.
“I haven’t made it to nationals, and I haven’t been All American in cross country, so those are my main two goals,” he said. “And then, as far as the team goes, we haven’t made it to nationals in, like, 15 years, so that’s our main goal.”
This season, the women will return seven runners, along with three freshman, and a walk-on.
Despite losing the eighth and 22nd finishers at last year’s national meet — Emily Oren and Kristina Perkins — the squad is bringing back senior Molly Oren, junior Hannah McIntyre, and sophomore Ally Eads — all of whom qualified for the national meet in track last spring.
“Losing Emily Oren, Kristina Perkins, and Kate Wierenga, girls who really put their stamp on this program, I think a lot of people are going to count us out,” Kearney said. “This isn’t a rebuilding year. They’ve developed this tradition and a standard, and I’m excited to get that championship notch on our belts.”
McIntyre thinks the team’s remaining athletes with national experience are assets.
“Obviously the team is a different one,” she said. “But it doesn’t change the job on the team.”
McIntyre also said she has a “healthy expectation” that her team will return to the national meet.
Kearney said the freshmen on the team are hungry, and that they should have a smooth transition in becoming part of the team’s culture.
Both the men and women will open up their season at the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing on Sept. 16.