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SOMERSET, NJ —
Three-time defending Northeast Conference men’s cross country champion Central Connecticut was picked by the league’s head coaches to add to its legacy, earning eight first-place votes in the 2012 preseason poll.
2012 Northeast Conference
Men’s Cross Country
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Central Connecticut (8)
2. Saint Francis (PA) (2)
3. Monmouth (1)
4. Mount Saint Mary’s
5. Sacred Heart
6. Robert Morris
10. St. Francis (NY)
11. Fairleigh Dickinson
First Place Votes in Parentheses ( )
Last season’s runner-up, Saint Francis (PA), collected two first-place votes and was tabbed second, while Monmouth received one first-place vote and the third spot in the poll. Mount St. Mary’s was fourth, followed by Sacred Heart, Robert Morris, Quinnipiac and Wagner. Bryant, St. Francis (NY) and Fairleigh Dickinson rounded out the 11-team field.
In his three years since becoming head coach of Central Connecticut, Eric Blake has built a powerhouse program in New Britain. The Blue Devils finished 17th at the 2011 NCAA Northeast Regional, the best of any NEC team.
The Blue Devils return a deep field, despite losing 2011 NEC Outstanding Performer Sam Alexander to graduation. Senior Craig Hunt (New Milford, CT/Milford) is the top returner for CCSU. He took second at last year’s championship in 26:06.90, and has finished in the top-10 and earned All-Conference accolades each year since his career began in 2009. Hunt was also a two-time NEC Athlete of the Week in 2011. In addition, Hunt finished 57th with the second-fastest NEC time (32:48) at the NCAA Northeast Regional, behind teammate Alexander.
Sophomore Andy Pullaro (Washington, CT/Shepaug), who placed 19th at the 2011 NEC meet, and senior John Krell (Farmington, CT/Farmington), who finished in 22nd, will also be be major contributing factors for the Blue Devils. Others who will add depth include sophomore Brian Biekert (Groton, CT/Fitch) (35th) and junior Andrew Hill (Colchester, CT/Bacon Academy) (36th). All four raced at the NCAA Regional meet last year.
The 2012 Northeast Conference Men’s Cross Country Championship will take place at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI on Nov. 10.
• Only three teams—Central Connecticut, Quinnipiac and Saint Francis (PA)—have won the NEC Championship title since 1999. Six schools in all have won a cross country championship since the sport’s inception in the NEC in 1986.
• Since Saint Francis (PA) won five straight titles from 1999 to 2003, no team has been able to win more than three straight. The Red Flash are tied with Fairleigh Dickinson (1990-94) for the most consecutive titles in the sport.
• In addition to Central Connecticut’s streak of three conference titles, the NEC Top Performer for the past two years has also been a Blue Devil (Ry Sanderson, Sam Alexander).
• In 2011, the NEC had 43 athletes run in the NCAA Regional Championships. In a field of 33 teams at the Northeast Regional, two schools (Central Connecticut, Quinnipiac) represented the conference as complete teams. Monmouth, Saint Francis (PA) and Robert Morris represented the NEC at the Mid-Atlantic Regional.
TEAM BY TEAM
The Bulldogs will look to a class of seven returning harriers and three newcomers to move up the NEC ladder in 2012.
Runner to Watch: Senior David Hurley (Ashaway, RI/Chariho Regional) improved from 29th in 2010 to 14th at last year’s NEC Championship, earning him an All-Conference nod. Hurley paced the Bulldogs in five of six of his races last year.
The Knights look to turn things around in 2012 with an experienced unit returning along with one newcomer, Darrel Gooding (Somerset, NJ/Franklin Township).
Runner to Watch: Senior Robert Cherkis’ (East Northport, NY/St. Anthony’s) time of 29:14.10 was the second-fastest for the Knights at last season’s conference championship.
Monmouth tied for third place with Mount St. Mary’s at the conference championship last year. The Hawks have placed in the top-three 11 times since 1987, but have yet to win the title.
Runner to Watch: Monmouth’s top returner, sophomore Khari Bowen (Monroe, NJ/Monroe Township), placed ninth at the championship last year in 27:08.20, earning him a spot on the All-Conference squad. Bowen was the NEC Athlete of the Week one occasion in 2011, as well as a two-time NEC Rookie of the Week.
Mount St. Mary’s
Head coach Jay Phillips led Mount St. Mary’s to a third place tie with Monmouth a year ago, a big leap from the team’s seventh place finish in 2010.
Runner to Watch: Senior Chris Swisko (Aberdeen, MD/Calvert Hall) collected the top finish for returning Mountaineers at the 2011 NEC Championship, placing 26th with a time of 27:50.00.
Quinnipiac is looking regain a spot back on the podium after placing sixth in 2011. The Bobcats won four NEC crowns and finished no lower than second each year from 2003-09.
Runner to Watch: Sophomore Spencer Mannion (Brookfield, CT/Brookfield) placed 27th at the NEC Championship last season, clocking in at 27:50.90. Mannion was the NEC Rookie of the Week on three occasions in 2011, and paced the Bobcats in four races during his freshman season.
The Colonials also saw a vast improvement in 2011, taking the fifth spot at the NEC Championships after placing ninth the year prior.
Runner to Watch: Senior Dorian Rumble (Pittsburgh, PA/Penn Hills) jumped 14 spots to 52nd place last season at the NEC Championship, running to a time of 28:32.30.
The Pioneers had two runners finish in the top-10 in 2011, and took the seventh spot at the NEC Championships.
Runner to Watch: A year ago, senior Christopher Connelly (Medford, NY/Patchogue-Medford) finished in seventh place in 26:50.30, nabbing a spot on the All-Conference squad. He was named NEC Athlete of the Week one time last season for his fifth place overall finish at the Albany Invitational 8K.
St. Francis (NY)
The Terriers moved up one spot to ninth place at last season’s championship, and hope to keep moving up the ladder with an experienced team that includes six seniors.
Runner to Watch: Senior and All-Conference honoree Paul Gilhuley (Brooklyn NY/Bishop Ford) finished 10th a year ago at NECs in 27:09.00. He was the NEC Athlete of the Week once in 2011 after he was the top NEC finisher at the Fordham Fiasco 8K.
Saint Francis (PA)
Saint Francis (PA), which leads the NEC with seven total conference titles, finished second for the second straight time last season. The Red Flash have a new head coach, Doug Hoover, and will return five runners, including three who placed in the top-20 at the 2011 Championship, and bring in three freshmen.
Runner to Watch: Sophomore Ryan Kennedy (New Kensington, PA/Kiski Area) earned All-Conference honors after pacing the Red Flash with his 13th place showing in 27:16.30. He had the second-fastest time for the Red Flash at five-of-seven meets in 2011.
Wagner, coming off a seventh place finish in 2011 under head coach Joe Stasi, returns six harriers to the squad, joined by one newcomer.
Runner to Watch: Sophomore James Naglieri (Stony Point, NY/North Rockland) took 34th place at the NEC event last season, crossing the tape in 28:06.90.