After placing 14th at the NCAA national championship last year, the men’s cross country team is looking to build experience and return to the national championship this year, according to head coach Andrew Towne.
“Last year, we made nationals for the first time since 2004,” team captain senior Nathan Jones said. “We had a lot of experience — three seniors and a lot of upperclassmen. It was a really good year.”
The team will start its season this Friday at the Michigan State Spartan Invitational.
Towne said the first meet of the season is always highly anticipated, after all of the training leading up to it.
“The team has put in a lot of work over the summer, we had a really good camp, and they’ve done a really nice job since we’ve been back on campus, but there haven’t been any races yet, so I think they’re excited for that race,” Towne said. “Michigan State’s always been a good opener for us with some good competition, so that will give them a chance to see where they’re at.”
Though three of the team’s top runners from last year graduated, plenty of talent is returning. Senior Tony Wondaal earned All-American honors last year, and sophomore Joey Humes was named the 2016 GLIAC men’s cross country and indoor track freshman of the year.
“For this year, the biggest thing is that we have some pieces, we just have to put it all together,” Jones said. “It’s a new group of guys, so new expectations, but I think you will see this team progress as the season goes on.”
The men’s cross country team was the favorite in the conference coaches’ preseason poll, and the team is ranked sixth in the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s rankings.
Assistant coach R.P. White said the competition in the G‑MAC will be similar to the GLIAC. Although the team will no longer face national contender Grand Valley State University, Hillsdale will still compete against a similar depth of teams, White said. The NCAA national selection process was also adjusted this year to place a greater emphasis on head-to-head competition, in addition to regional performance, White said.
“We’re really excited, and it’s going to be a little bit of a learning experience for the freshmen,” he said. “I’m just excited to see how it unfolds.”