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Somerset, NJ -- Two-time defending champion Central Connecticut State will look to keep the Northeast Conference (NEC) Championship trophy in New Britain for another year, as the Blue Devils were voted first in preseason poll for the second consecutive year by the league's head coaches. The Blue Devils, who received 10 first-place votes, return several experienced runners in their bid to repeat. Saint Francis (PA) placed second in the poll and earned two first-place nods, with Sacred Heart right behind in third. Monmouth, which will host the championship meet in Holmdel, NJ, was picked to finish fourth followed by Wagner in fifth. Bryant was chosen sixth, while Mount St. Mary's followed in seventh. Quinnipiac was tabbed to finish eighth and Robert Morris was picked ninth. Rounding out the league of 12 were St. Francis (NY), Fairleigh Dickinson and Long Island.
2011 Northeast Conference
Men's Cross Country
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Central Connecticut State (10)
2. Saint Francis (PA) (2)
3. Sacred Heart
7. Mount St. Mary's
9. Robert Morris
10. St. Francis (NY)
11. Fairleigh Dickinson
12. Long Island
First place votes in parentheses ( ).
With two-time NEC Coach of the Year Eric Blake at the helm for Central Connecticut, the Blue Devils are poised to capture their third consecutive NEC title. Despite losing 2010 NEC individual champion Ry Sanderson to graduation, there is no shortage of talent at Blake's disposal. Sam Alexander (Waterford, CT/Waterford) enters his final season following a very successful junior campaign, highlighted by a second place finish at the 2010 NEC championship. Alexander posted a time of 25:08 over the 8K course to earn a spot on the All-Conference team. Additionally, the distance runner was named NEC Athlete of the Week after his second place finish at the Ted Owen Invitational early in the season. Alexander's classmate. Jeremy Schmid (Litchfield, CT/Litchfield), along with junior Craig Hunt (New Milford, CT/New Milford), also return for the Blue Devils. The duo placed 10th (26:01) and third (25:14), respectively, at the NEC meet. Their performances also landed them spots on the All-Conference squad. During the regular season, Hunt shattered the Stanley Quarter Park course record at the CCSU Mini-Meet 5K, crossing the tape with a time of 14:55, catapulting him to NEC Athlete of the Week honors. In the postseason Hunt found success at the IC4A Championships, finishing second overall. Completing the 8K course in 25:02, Hunt helped his team to a third place finish. Junior John Krell (Farmington, CT/Farmington) rounded out the list of 2010 NEC All-Conference members for the Blue Devils with his 14th place finish at the NEC Championship. Rising sophomore Andrew Hill (Colchester, CT/Bacon Academy) brings depth to the roster along with an NEC Rookie of the Week honor from his freshman campaign which he earned by helping the Blue and White capture a first place finish at the CCSU Mini-Meet 5K.
Saint Francis (PA) will look to take the top spot from the Blue Devils following a second place finish at last year's NEC championship. Third-year coach Gordon Thomson returns a talented group including senior Chris Mills (Pikesville, MD/Western Tech) and 2010 NEC Freshman of the Year Chris Fischer (Altoona, PA/Altoona). Mills, who finished eighth (25:55) overall at last year's championship, was awarded a spot on the All-Conference team after narrowly missing out as a sophomore. He recorded several other impressive finishes in his junior year, including a 23rd place finish at the competitive Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, earning him NEC Athlete of the Week Honors. Mills followed that performance by placing winning the Cappy Anderson Invitational with a time of 24:52. Fischer, who posted his most impressive time (26:36) of the season and finished sixth at the Delaware Blue and Gold Meet, picked up two NEC Rookie of the Week honors throughout the season. He claimed 16th place at the NEC meet and will look to build upon his terrific freshman season. Junior Shawn Folley (Hamilton, NJ/Notre Dame) and classmate Sean Kirby (Clarksville, MD/River Hill) also come off successful 2010 campaigns which concluded with both harriers earning spots on the NEC All-Conference team.
After posting its second consecutive third-place finish at last years title meet, Sacred Heart will look to break through in the 2011 season and claim the one honor that has eluded the Pioneers: an NEC championship. Led by 18th year head coach Christian Morrison, the Pioneers return a solid group of runners led by two-time All-Conference honoree Jeffrey Lusignan (East Montpelier, VT/US-32). The senior will look to make this season his best yet after an impressive fourth-place (25:47) overall finish at last year's NEC event. Lusignan was also honored with an All-East nod after his top-25 finish at the ECAC Championships. Senior Richard Marcello (Foster, RI/Scituate) and junior Colin Seidl (Cochecton NY/Sullivan West Central) also bring depth to the team with Marcello finishing second on the Pioneers at the NCAA Northeast Regional, completing the 10K course in 32:57. While Seidl narrowly missed picking up All-Conference honors - he finishing 15th at the league meet with a time of 26:15 - it marked an improvement from his 24th place finish in 2009.
Up one spot from last year's poll, Monmouth will look to earn a place on the podium at the 2011 Championship. Despite losing Ben Hutterer, who claimed fifth at last years NEC race, 16th year veteran head coach Joe Compagni returns an experienced and talented group of harriers. Dan Collura (Jackson NJ/Jackson Memorial) comes off a career year in which he finished 16th overall at the NEC championship, besting his 37th place finish in 2009. Fellow Hawk seniors Todd Apgar (Somers, NY/Somers) and Garth DeBlasio (Millstone, NJ/Allentown) both earned top-30 finishes at the conference meet. Sophomore Seth Robbins (Mechanicsburg, PA/Cumberland Valley) will look to build upon a solid first season, which was highlighted by NEC Rookie of the Week honors for finishing second (26:32) on the team at the Paul Short 8K.
Also up a spot from last year, Wagner rounds out the top five in this year's poll with senior Zac Spector (Yaphank, NY/Longwood) leading the charge for longtime coach Joe Stasi, who enters his 15th year on Grymes Hill. Spector placed ninth overall at the 2010 NEC Championship, earning him his second career All-Conference nod. Finishing first on the team in six-of-seven races, Spector also earned NEC Athlete of the Week honors after taking third (18:48) overall at the 6K Monmouth XC Kickoff. Daniel Zaccariello (Staten Island, NY/St. Joseph By The Sea) was twice honored with conference Rookie of the Week honors for placing in the top-25 of both the Monmouth XC Kickoff and the Ted Owens Invitational 8K.
Bryant makes a big jump to the sixth spot after being picked to finish 10th in last year's poll. This will be the third year the Bulldogs will compete at the Division I level and will look to make strides towards the top of the conference under fourth year coach and former Irish national champion Stephanie Reilly. After finishing in the top thirty at four races and coming across the line first on the Bulldogs at both the NEC Championship and NCAA Northeast Regional, junior David Hurley (Ashway, RI/Chariho Regional) will be a major contributor. Chris Chapruet (Danvers, MA/Danvers) comes off a freshman campaign that featured solid performances at both the conference and NCAA regional events.
Mount St. Mary's returns one of the league's best runners in Dylan Bernard (Frederick, MD/Urbana). The senior raced to a sixth place finish and earned All-NEC recognition at the 2010 league event, the third such honor of his career. Bernard, who covered the championship course in 25:53.9, hopes to become the first Mount runner to earn All-NEC honors all four years since Matt Logie (2005-08). Juniors Chris Swisko (Aberdeen, MD/Calvert Hall) and Sean Caskey (Dundalk, MD/Calvert Hall) both posted top-40 NEC Championship finishes a year ago. Head coach Jay Phillips, a Mount graduate, adds nine newcomers to the mix this season.
Following a three-year championship run from 2006-2008, Quinnipiac will look to bring the NEC crown back to Hamden. Head coach Carolyn Martin returns an experienced junior class, which features Mike Levine (Redding, CT/Joel Barrow). Levine consistently finished first for the Bobcats during his sophomore campaign, including a top-25 finish at the NEC Championship race with a time of 26:38. Juniors Brian Cotter (Huntington, NY/Huntington) and Jacob Cetera (Chicago, IL/Lincoln Park) were also top finishers for the Bobcats in 2010.
Robert Morris and head coach Michael Smith look to make a move up the NEC ladder with solid senior leadership and a group of five incoming freshman. The senior trio of Arthur Leathers (Taneytown, MD/Francis Scott Key), Brian Mitchell (Allison Park PA/Hampton) and Greg Opp (Somerset, PA/Somerset) were the top runners for the Colonials in 2010. Mitchell saved his best for the NEC Championship last season, posting his fastest time of the year, clocking in at 26:52 to place him in 31st in the field.
After finishing tenth at last year's NEC Championship, St. Francis (NY) hopes to continue building the program under fifth year coach Kyle Brown. The Terriers sport a seasoned group of harriers, including senior captain Rafal Kspeka (Queens, NY/Grover Cleveland) and junior Paul Gilhuley (Brooklyn, NY/Bishop Ford), who crossed the line first (26:29) for St. Francis for the second consecutive year at the NEC meet. Paul's twin brother Joseph Gilhuley (Brooklyn, NY/Bishop Ford) also adds depth to the Terrier roster.
Fairleigh Dickinson head coach and NEC Hall of Fame sprinter Sharlene Milwood-Lee returns the talented junior duo of Robert Cherkis (East Northport, NY/St. Anthony's) and Kimutal Bett (Litein, Kenya/Chebisaas Boys). Bett will look to pick up where he left off last season after ending the year by breaking his 10K personal record at the NCAA Northeast Regional meet with a time of 34:45.
Long Island rounds out the field under veteran head coach Julia Sandiford. Sandiford will rely on juniors Rogers Kipruto (Rift Valley, Kenya/Kambach) and Chris Welch (Brooklyn, NY/Erasmus Hall). Kipruto was the NEC individual champion, NEC Most Outstanding Performer and Freshman of the Year in 2009 before being sidelined for most of the 2010 season.
The 2011 Northeast Conference Men's Cross Country Championship will be hosted by Monmouth and take place at Holmdel Park in Holmdel, NJ on October 29.